Bipartisan push to create 3-digit suicide prevention phone number

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WASHINGTON (KKTV) - As we pause to honor those who have served our country, we also need to acknowledge just how many are taking their own lives.

In Colorado, the numbers are staggering: Nearly 200 veterans have died by suicide every year between 2004 and 2017, according to the Colorado Health Institute.

Our nation offers a suicide prevention hotline for both civilians and veterans, but that number is 10 digits long -- not easy to remember in an emergency. There is a growing push among lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to simplify this phone number.

A bill introduced by three U.S. senators including Republican Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado would change this lifeline to an easy three-digit number, 988.

"It makes a lot more sense," Dr. Mark Mayfield of Colorado Springs' Mayfield Counseling Centers told 11 News. "When you're in crisis, you're not going to try to look up a 1-800 number."

Mayfield is a suicide survivor himself and says getting help to people who need it faster and easier makes a difference.

"In a county that has been struggling so long with suicide, suicide ideation, having greater access to support that is immediate is going to save lives."

Other experts agree.

“If you are in a car accident, you don’t have to remember a seven-digit number to get immediate help -- a mental health emergency should be no different,” said National Alliance on Mental Illness’ Acting CEO Angela Kimball in an endorsement of the bill. "... The creation of a nationwide ‘988’ number could mean the difference between life and death by diverting people from the criminal justice system and instead get them the right care when they need it most.”

The "988" line would also include a crisis line that is specifically for veterans.

Gardner hopes to have the bill on the president's desk by the end of the year. In the meantime, the current crisis line is there for anyone who needs it.

That number is 1-800-273-8255.