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US lawmakers working to create nationwide mental health line

Updated: November 15, 2019 08:22 PM

Lawmakers in Washington are trying to make it easier to get mental health help. A bill has been proposed to create a three digit line, like 9-1-1, to help people in crisis.

The legislation was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in August, after the FCC suggested using 9-8-8 as the number. The Senate version was introduced in October.

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Now, NAMI Minnesota is pressuring the Minnesota Congressional Delegation to sign onto it.

“This is a huge public health issue and we need to really start addressing it in any single way we can,” said Sue Abderholden, the executive director. “Suicide rates are growing, not just in Minnesota but across the country.”

She told us she was devastated by the recent Minnesota Student Survey data showing nearly one in 10 11th-graders reported attempting suicide.

The state has established a crisis line, **CRISIS (**274747), in Minnesota. There are also county-specific lines.

“In Minnesota we have over 40 crisis lines,” said Abderholden.

She told us the resources can be overwhelming when time is of the essence. They also don’t always help in every situation. 

“If someone was from another state and they were worried about a loved one, perhaps on a college campus somewhere in Minnesota, how would they know what to tell them?” she said.

Christopher Shaw, the executive director of The Heart and Mind Connection, agrees a three-digit line will reduce barriers to resources.

“There were times I couldn't even remember my own phone number, let alone an 800 number,” said Shaw.

He survived a suicide attempt.

His non-profit focuses on mental health advocacy, substance use disorder recovery and education.

“Three digits- it would've been something that I would’ve recalled and possible used,” he said. “Instead of thinking about an 800 number and ‘what if I get put on hold?’”

He is encouraging people to call Minnesota lawmakers in support of the legislation. 

"Someone answers, there's help right there, someone knows," he said.

Shaw told us making access to help easier will save lives. It will also help reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness.

“If they see it as something that's taken this seriously, they'll be able to understand that maybe there's more I need to know about what's going on with people's mental health conditions,” said Shaw. 

“Hopefully it will break down some of that wall of the stigma we put on ourselves- that I can't reach out for help, that nobody would understand, and nobody would care if they did- and start to say this is as serious of a concern as a car crash, as a robbery, anything we would use 911 for."

He’s been diagnosed with PTSD, bipolar disorder and anxiety. Shaw is a Navy veteran and stand-up comedian. He shares his story to give others who struggle hope they can recover.

“Where I was at four years, five years, 10 years ago, I would've never imagined I’d be doing some of the things I’m doing now,” he said. “With time, with therapy, with human connection with other people, you can be well.”

The bills are still in respective House and Senate committees. Two members of the Minnesota Congressional Delegation, a Republican and a Democrat, are listed as co-sponsors on the House version, as of Friday.

We reached out to every member to see if they support the legislation. The following lawmakers replied:

Sen. Tina Smith: “Sen. Smith is taking a look at the bill and believes that we need to make sure an anticipated increase in calls is also matched with an increase in resources to help Minnesotans and Americans.”

Rep. Angie Craig: "I've heard from folks across my district struggling with mental health challenges - from farmers facing bankruptcy to families struggling to pay healthcare bills - it should be as easy as possible for Minnesotans to reach out for help in times of need. By creating a three digit dial code for the Suicide Prevention Hotline, we acknowledge the importance of access to mental health resources and ensure that more of our neighbors, friends, and family members can get the help they need."

Rep. Craig is now listed as a co-sponsor

Rep. Dean Phillips: “Rep. Phillips is excited to see this meaningful bipartisan work on mental health. He fully supports H.R. 4194 and will be signing on as a co-sponsor.”

Rep. Tom Emmer: “Congressman Emmer is in the process of becoming a co-sponsor and does support the legislation.”

Rep. Emmer is now listed as a co-sponsor.

Rep. Jim Hagedorn: “Neither Rep. Hagedorn nor any other members of the Minnesota delegation have cosponsored the bill as of now. However, Rep. Hagedorn is evaluating the legislation and will make a decision on whether to support it in the near future.”


Crisis Phone Line – In the Twin Cities metro area, call **CRISIS** (274747) from a cellphone to talk to a team of professionals who can help you.

Crisis Text Line – Text MN to 741741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor to receive free, 24/7 crisis support via text message.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – Call 800-273-TALK (8255) to talk to a trained crisis counselor 24/7.

You can also find help from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or additional resources to support mental health.


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