A bipartisan bill aimed to create a three-digit help number for mental health emergencies has been approved

The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020 was signed into law by President Donald Trump on Oct. 17 according to an update on the U.S. Congress website. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) designated 988 as the universal phone number for suicide prevention and those undergoing a mental health crisis.

Currently, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline uses a 10-digit phone number, which will now be phased out by July 2022. The 988 number will replace that of 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

"When you're in crisis and you're already emotionally upset, the hardest thing to do is find the number that's a 10-digit number and call it," Robert Gebbia, CEO of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said according to NPR. 

The Vibrant Emotional Health Organization, formerly known as the Mental Health Association of New York City (MHA-NYC), runs the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. The website estimates 2.5 million people each year use the hotline to receive "confidential emotional support."

CEO and President of VEHO Kimberly Williams spoke about the dramatic increase of individuals needing the service this past August. 

"We could have never predicted the events of 2020 — and the increased demand for our services," Williams said. "Since the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent racial unrest fueled by the events surrounding George Floyd's death began, our crisis hotline and emotional support programs have seen an incredible uptick in activity."

Williams also relayed the significance of having a three-digit system designated to call for help.

"A national three-digit number will make it far easier for millions of Americans to reach out for help and get an immediate connection to care when they're experiencing a mental health or suicidal crisis," she expressed. "Most importantly, 988 will help save lives."  

According to Vibrant's website, the helpline is available 24 hours a day and seven days a week. 

Congressman Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) expressed his excitement about the bill via statement and how it will positively impact lives. 

"When your house is on fire, you can get help by calling 911. A year-and-a-half ago, we set a goal to make it just as easy to get help in a mental health emergency," Moulton said. "Today, we finished the job and made 988 the national number for mental health emergencies."

"This is a win for every American who has been affected by a mental illness. It is a national step forward out of the shadows of the stigma that prevent too many people from getting help and into a new era when mental health care is easy to get and normal to talk about," he continued. "I'm so proud of my team and the partners that got this done. This will save tens of thousands of lives every year."

According to the CDC, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in America. 

The groundbreaking law also requires the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the Department of Veteran Affairs (DVA) to report how to make the phone number accessible across the nation jointly. Moreover, DHHS will have the added responsibility of developing a strategy to provide access to qualified and skilled mental health professionals for high-risk groups like the LGBTQ+ community, minorities and individuals who live in rural areas.