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9-8-8 will be new suicide prevention hotline number, Stewart says

(FILE PHOTO: Rep. Chris Stewart, courtesy of Ravell Call, Deseret News)

Like 9-1-1, there will soon be a national three-digit number — 9-8-8 — to call in case of suicide emergencies. The new number is in part thanks to the work of Utah’s Rep. Chris Stewart.

The Republican congressman joined the guest host of “Inside Sources,” Lee Lonsberry, on Thursday to talk about the lawmaker’s work on creating the new three-digit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

The National Suicide Prevention hotline number will be 9-8-8, Stewart announced on “Inside Sources.”

“This is one of my proudest accomplishments during my time I have been honored to serve in Congress,” Stewart said.

Every 12 minutes someone in the U.S. commits suicide, Stewart said.

Stewart said when he speaks to large groups he asks: Who has someone close to them, family or friends, who has experienced suicide? Almost everyone raises their hands, he said.

He said four or five years ago nobody talked about it.

“People didn’t acknowledge it like we do now,” Stewart said. “I’m glad we’re having this conversation because it’s a problem everywhere. It’s a problem here in Utah.”

According to Stewart’s House webpage, an average of 627 Utahns die from suicide and 4,574 Utahns attempt suicide each year. Suicide is now the leading cause of death in Utah for 10 to 17-year-olds.

The problem is there’s a suicide prevention hotline number, but nobody knows what it is, he said.

“It’s different in Salt Lake than it is in St. George than it is in New York or around the country,” he said. “So we wanted to create a three-digit number that everyone would know.”

There are a number of other ways to use your clout as a representative, so Lonsberry asked Stewart, why this effort?

“We saw the opportunity to help and we grabbed hold of it, and I became the guy,” Stewart said.

Stewart said the effort was not controversial. It was bipartisan, didn’t cost anything and yet, he said, “it still took us three years to get this through Congress.”

“When you call to 9-8-8,” Stewart said, you will “almost always” be connected to someone locally who is “highly trained” and understands where you are geographically.

“That will cost a little more money,” he said, “and this allows states to attach a fee to a phone bill if they choose to.”

Many states don’t have the resources and are routing their calls to centers in Utah, he said.

“Nothing in life is so bad that you can’t give it another day,” Stewart said. “There is no question that this will save lives. It will save the lives of people who under the circumstances have nowhere else to turn. And we’re going to give them somewhere to turn.”

Lonsberry asked why not call 9-1-1?

“They could call an ambulance or call the police but…they are not trained and don’t have the time to stay on the line and talk to someone” and provide the initial counsel that someone in that situation desperately needs, Stewart said.

The FCC has one year to implement the infrastructure to route all the calls to the appropriate call centers, he said.

World Suicide Prevention Day 2019 is Tuesday (Sept. 10).

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Also, help or support can be found here:

Disaster Distress Helpline: 800-985-5990 (Provides 24/7, 365-day-a-year crisis
counseling and support to people experiencing emotional distress related to
natural or human-caused disasters, like mass shootings).

Crisis Text Line: 741741 (Provides free, 24/7 crisis support).

National Military Survivor Helpline: 800-959-TAPS (8277) (Provides free 24/7
support offering  resources and guidance about postvention, grief, and peer-to-peer support).