July 15,2021

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Taylor Harvey 202-224-4515

Senators Sound Alarm on Big Telecom Effort to Limit National Suicide Hotline

Reports show telecom industry lobbying to limit implementation of three-digit suicide prevention hotline

Washington, D.C. – Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today led colleagues in pressing the national lobbying arm of the wireless telecommunications industry regarding possible interference in the implementation of the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, threatening key crisis response services related to the new three-digit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the Veterans Crisis Line.

Joining Wyden on the letter are U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Chris Murphy, D-Conn.

In a letter to CTIA President & CEO Meredith Attwell Baker, the senators wrote, “Making it easier to access federal suicide prevention resources has the potential to save countless lives. But we have to let it, and that means full and efficient implementation of 9-8-8, both at the federal level and in states and local communities across the country. That is why we are gravely concerned by reports that the telecommunications industry — represented by your association — is actively working to limit the states’ implementation of this critical lifeline for Americans in crisis... If successful, these efforts would limit the ability of states to establish and maintain the call centers staffed by trained individuals, mobile crisis teams, and crisis stabilization services that are all fundamental to breaking the cycle of suicide.”

Last year, Congress passed the National Suicide Designation Act, which requires that by no later than July 2022, a three-digit 9-8-8 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline will be up and running for Americans in need of support. Veterans calling for assistance would also be swiftly routed to the Veterans Crisis Line for veteran-specific mental health support.

“Every American should be doing everything they can to get those in crisis help when and where they need it, and not working to tie the hands of those who can provide it. Given the public interest in a fully-functioning National Suicide Prevention Lifeline that is supported by trained mental health professionals, we urge CTIA and its member companies to rethink its efforts around state-level implementation of the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, and instead to work with officials in Washington, D.C. and across the country to stand up this critical resource,” the senators closed.

Wyden has called for years for the creation of a national three-digit suicide prevention hotline and advocated for a better mental health system for all Americans, including funding to help states adopt mobile crisis intervention teams that can be dispatched when a person is experiencing a mental health or substance use disorder (SUD) crisis instead of immediately involving law enforcement.

A full copy of today’s letter is here.