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Making the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline easier to use

Author: Don Matteson

The New York Times reported yesterday that the Federal Communications Commission recommended shortening the 10-digit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number (1–800–273–8255) to three digits. This would effectively make it a “911” for suicide prevention.

This is an excellent suggestion, and it echoes what Michael Hogan, Ph.D. recommends in the first installment of the 2019 Think Bigger Do Good Policy Paper series, “Youth Suicide is Increasing: Modest Actions Taken Now Can Save Lives.” What else does Hogan recommend?

  • Expand the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Suicide Prevention Program to offer ongoing grant support to states, continue a focus on tribal communities, and retain the competitive grant program for post-secondary institutions.
  • Apply improvements made to the Veterans Crisis Line and call centers to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The federal government should increase funding to cover all call center costs.
  • Provide more resources to the Lifeline and call centers to make it easier (possible?) to follow up with people recently discharged from inpatient units or emergency departments.
  • SAMHSA (the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) should make suicide prevention activities and readiness to prevent suicide clusters an explicit and required element of the Safe Schools/Healthy Students program.

The paper is not long (10 pages, with lots of white space for notes!), not too wonkish, and well worth the read. Please share these recommendations with anyone and everyone who will listen. The opening paragraph of the paper notes that more than 150,000 young people annually are treated in emergency departments after engaging in self-harm. Let’s do what we can to drive that number down as far as possible. Zero would be ideal.