Everyone knows to dial 911 in an emergency. But in a mental health emergency, a different, just-as-easy-to-remember number may be a more-effective and even life-saving option, say suicide-prevention advocates, federal lawmakers, and others.
They've been pushing for a new, three-digit phone number, similar to 911, to use in instances of mental health crisis. The public has the opportunity, through Friday, to comment to the Federal Communications Commission about creating just such a number. Input can be offered at fcc.gov.
"We have known for a long time that the 911 system in the United States is not the ideal location to handle calls for mental health emergencies and requests for assistance," Becky Stoll, chairwoman of the Crisis Center Division at the American Association of Suicidology in Washington, D.C., said in a statement last week to the media, including to the News Tribune Opinion page.
"(The association) is in full support of ... a suicide-prevention number exclusive to this purpose," Stoll, a licensed clinical social worker, further stated. "We are aware that 211 centers have been put forth as an option to serve in this capacity. ... Our endorsement of a unique 3-digit code should not be seen as any attempt to invalidate their work; however, suicide prevention deserves its own 3-digit telephone code."
Dialing 611 also has been suggested. An already-in-existence number - the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK, or 800-273-8255 - is an important resource but is hardly easy to remember, especially in an emergency situation.
Mental health is a growing concern - a "crisis," according to the American Association of Suicidology's statement. Suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death and second-leading cause of death for those under 25, the association said. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2016, there were almost 45,000 suicides in the U.S., up from about 30,000 in 1999.
In Duluth, the creation of a Mental Health Unit, consisting of two dedicated police officers and two embedded social workers, is making a positive difference. Over the past year, Duluth Police saw 31 percent fewer mental health calls as a result of the unit, the city announced at a press conference on May 22. The approach can be adopted by more communities.
A number similar to 911 could help even more, advocates say. It would "easily come to mind for those in need of intervention services," Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission in December requesting the new number.
"We need a dedicated hotline for only this issue," he wrote.
Agree? You have until the end of the week to tell the FCC.