This editoral ran in The Manhattan Mercury on July 16, 2022.

A mental health crisis requires help from trained professionals much like any health care emergency. Starting today, Americans experiencing a mental health crisis can dial 9-8-8 to immediately speak to a trained counselor at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Just like Americans reach for their phones to dial 9-1-1 in an emergency, this three-digit number for the suicide prevention lifeline can provide a life-saving call to help those struggling with mental illness.

In my state of Kansas, suicide is tragically increasing. A recent study by the Behavioral Health Services, housed under the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services (KDADS), reported a 70 percent increase in suicide rates between 2000 and 2018.

These statistics represent our friends, neighbors, co-workers and family members. People of all ages, from all backgrounds, of all races and religions, can fall victim to struggles with mental health. Suicide and mental illness do not discriminate.

In 2019, I joined with my Senate colleagues in introducing the bipartisan National Suicide Prevention Hotline Improvement Act, legislation designating 9-8-8 as the official suicide hotline number for those seeking help to battle suicide and mental illness.

The implementation of this three-digit number will be crucial to save lives and offer hope to those struggling with mental illness.

Before this legislation was implemented, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline had to be reached by dialing a 10-digit number. While that number will remain active, 9-8-8 is easier to remember and quicker to dial. For those struggling with mental illness or suicidal thoughts, 9-8-8 will provide immediate help from trained, experienced professionals who can offer resources and hope to make it through a mental health crisis.

Access to mental health care became even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many Americans felt isolated and depressed, exacerbating mental health illnesses and increasing suicide rates, especially in adolescents. In 2021, concern for the emotional well-being of young adults led to the American Academy of Pediatrics declaring a state of emergency regarding child and young adult mental health.

In addition to our younger generation, another group of Americans who have suffered from increased mental illness, and who are at greatest risk of suicide, are our nation’s veterans and servicemembers. On average, around 17 veterans a day die by suicide, and the suicide rate for active-duty servicemembers has more than doubled over the past decade. Together, the suicide rate for our veterans and active-duty servicemembers is 50 percent higher than among civilians. According to the CDC, suicide rates for farmers and agriculture workers are worse than almost any other occupation.

These alarming numbers motivated Congress to act quickly and pass the National Suicide Prevention Hotline Improvement Act, providing a timely response to the current mental health crisis. This legislation was signed into law in October of 2020, and today the National Suicide Prevention Hotline goes live, making 9-8-8 the official emergency number to call in a time of mental health crisis.

This is just one step towards protecting and caring for those facing mental health challenges, but it is a significant one. This hotline creates an easily accessible avenue for those requiring immediate assistance and care.

I encourage anyone who is experiencing a mental health challenge to call 9-8-8. There is no shame in asking for help, and there is always hope even on the darkest days.

I remain committed to do all I can in Congress to develop concrete solutions for those who are struggling with mental illness and who are at risk of suicide. As we make progress to develop and promote mental health resources, I also encourage each of us to recommit ourselves to looking out for those around us. We need each other in this battle against mental illness, and the implementation of this hotline is a crucial step forward in this fight.

Sen. Moran represents Kansas in the United States Senate and authored the legislation to designate 9-8-8 as the official suicide hotline.