By CBS4 Political Specialist Shaun Boyd

DENVER (CBS4)– When someone is in crisis everything can seem overwhelming, including having to search for a number to call for help. Now, a simple change could have a profound impact on people’s ability to easily access the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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A bipartisan bill sponsored by Colorado’s U.S. Senator Cory Gardner would change the phone number for the Lifeline from 800-273-8255 to just 988.

The idea is to treat suicide like other life threatening emergencies. You call 911 for a medical emergency. Gardner, a Republican, said accessing mental health services in a crisis should be as easy as medical services.

Sen. Cory Gardner

Sen. Cory Gardner (R) Colorado (credit: CBS)

“This 988 number will allow people to get on the phone right now in a mental health crisis, to be able to call and talk to a counselor, to be able to receive help immediately,” said Gardner.

And mental health professionals say that is critical, especially in Colorado which has one of the highest suicide rates in the country.

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“I am not afraid to scream from the mountain tops, if you will that I think we are experiencing a crisis right now and it needs to be addressed immediately,” said Chris Weiss.

Chris Weiss

Chris Weiss (credit: CBS)

He heads-up Second Wind Fund, a non-profit that arranges – and pays for – therapy for kids whose parents can’t afford it. He says the organization saw requests for help jump 175% in the last three years as the teen suicide rate in Colorado more than doubled. Second Wind Fund received more than 760 referrals last year alone.

Mental Health

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“Second Wind Fund is in favor of shortening it to a three digit number as long as the appropriate staffing is there to accommodate what we hope would be an increase in calls due to easier access for all Coloradan,” said Weiss.

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The National Suicide Lifeline is expected to top 2.5 million calls this year. It is estimated calls could double in one year if the bill passes, requiring an additional $50 million in funding. But those in favor of 988 say savings in hospitalizations and lives would more than offset that.

The legislation gives states the authority to collect fees for 988 as they do now for 911.

Chris Weiss

CBS4’s Shaun Boyd interviews Chris Weiss (credit: CBS)

Gardner is also sponsoring a bill that would pay for a portion of a mental health professionals education loans if they agree to practice in an area where there is a shortage of therapists. That bill too has bipartisan support.

If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States. Your call is confidential and free.

Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.

LINK: Mental Health Resources

Shaun Boyd

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