Imagine you have a family member or friend who is in such emotional pain that they are struggling with suicidal thoughts and have a plan to take their life. What do you do? Who do you call? Since calling 911 is the only option to seek emergency help in life-threatening situations, people in crisis are often further traumatized by having law enforcement show up at their door or waiting hours at an emergency room to be seen.

What if you had an easy to remember three-digit number, like 911, to call for help that can rapidly respond to your loved one in crisis?

As part of the bipartisan National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, starting in July of 2022, you will have a new option to call 988. Any person, anywhere in our state, will be able to call for help for themselves or for a loved one who is experiencing a behavioral-health crisis. Implementation of the new 988 system and related crisis services will reduce reliance on emergency-room services and the use of law enforcement. The goal is to ensure that all Washington residents receive a rapid, consistent and effective level of crisis services no matter where they live, work or travel in the state.

Until the 988 system is established, if you or someone you know is in crisis, call the 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255. Operators can help in English and Spanish.

We can ensure help for those most in need with just pennies added to our phone bill — starting with one cent per day. This investment will help create an advanced call center to answer all calls and triage a person to the services they need, such as dispatching rapid response teams to those who need immediate help, and actually getting them to the service providers who can help them. It will also ensure follow-up appointments so that those care connections happen. Importantly, it will advance efforts to provide community-based alternatives to hospitals, including places where people can take advantage of peer support — one of the most effective ways to help people in crisis.

The numbers tell the story of how critically we need a comprehensive, coordinated system. CDC data shows that our state has lost more than 6,000 people to suicide in the last five years. We have a higher rate of teen suicide than the national average. We lose two to three young adults between the ages of 14-24 every week in our state. And suicide rates are higher among veterans, American Indian/Alaska natives, LGBTQ youth and people living in rural areas. Data from the Healthy Youth Survey shows that nearly a quarter of 10th grade students contemplated suicide in the past 12 months, and nearly 18% said they had a suicide plan. How many more might be lost during these turbulent and stressful times?

If you agree, call 800-562-6000 and urge your state legislators to support House Bill 1477 to ensure that every person, anywhere in our state, can receive the services they need and deserve. Together, we can save precious lives.