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Beyer Legislation Seeks to Educate About New Number for Suicide Prevention Hotline

AP Photo / Alex Brandon, File

For years, suicide prevention advocates have been pressing for a three digit telephone number that could serve as a hotline to save lives. Now, one Virginia congressman has a bill to help make it a reality.

You've heard of 911 for emergencies and 411 for information. Now the House of Representatives is debating a bill that could educate people about a new number for the National Suicide Hotline, 988.

Colleen Creighton at the American Association of Suicidology says a bill introduced by Congressman Don Beyer will help spread the word about the new hotline.

"We're going to need to educate the public and the consumer about what it all means," Creighton explains. "What does this new number mean? How is 988 different from 911? Where do I get more resources? What happens when I call? So Representative Beyer's bill kind of puts in that infrastructure and framework to really educate everyone about 998."

Beyer says the bill also hopes to change the culture around talking about suicide.

"So that Americans know to engage with people they're in fear might be thinking about it rather than just ignore people who might be suicidal," says Beyer. "And this is very different from the way I was raised at least where we were taught don't ever bring it up because you might give them the idea. Well that's certainly not the case."

He says he's hoping the Senate will take up the bill quickly so it can be on the president's desk by the end of May or early June.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria. He has reported for NPR, the New York Daily News and the Alexandria Gazette Packet. He has a master's degree in American Studies from Florida State University, and he is a former adjunct professor at Tallahassee Community College. He is the author of four books.