Citing rising suicide rates, Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon known for his work around tech issues, asked the Federal Communications Commission Monday to set up a new three-digit phone number similar to 911 for people needing help with mental health and potential suicide issues.
“I believe that a 3-digit code number, similar to 9-1-1 for emergencies, would most easily come to mind for those in need of intervention services,” Wyden wrote. “A new designated 3 digit code, such as 6-1-1, which has been recommended by my friends from [crisis line provider] Oregon Lines for Life, would be best because we need a dedicated hotline for only this issue.”
In 2016, almost 45,000 suicides took place in the United States, up from about 30,000 in 1999, according to CDC data. Rates rose by more than 30% in half of all U.S. states since then, according to the CDC.
Having a single, easy-to-remember phone number for mental health issues could make it easier to remember in a crisis, similar to how people know to call 911 in an emergency. Other three-digit codes include 311, used for non-emergency government services, 411 for directory assistance, and 211, which many communities use for social services including mental health crisis support. The 611 number, which Wyden suggested, is currently used by many phone companies for technical support.
In addition to local and regional lines, a National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is currently available at 1-800-273-TALK, or 1-800-273-8255.