SALEM — The use of 988 as the National Suicide Prevention Hotline took another step closer to reality last week as the Federal Communications Commission unanimously voted to designate the three-digit number as the national number for mental health emergencies.
Congressman Seth Moulton, a Salem Democrat pushed for this designation in the House along with Congressman Chris Stewart, an Air Force veteran and Republican from Utah. The goal is to create a number people, especially those in crisis, can remember and easily dial.
Moulton, a Marine Corps infantry officer who served four tours in the Iraq War, made mental health a priority during his brief run for president last year. That's when he spoke for the first time about his struggle with post-traumatic stress as a way to break the stigma for those seeking mental health services.
“When you are experiencing a mental health emergency, you shouldn't have to look up what number to call," said Moulton in a statement on July 16, the day the FCC approved of the measure. "That's why Representative Chris Stewart and I have spent the last year fighting to make 988 the national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline. This morning's unanimous vote by the FCC helps create the number, which is a good step. But, we also need to make sure that someone is on the other end of the line to answer the calls. That's why Congress must pass the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act which would help states fund the hotline and staff. The House must act and get the job done.”
Moulton secured language for the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, which Stewart and Moulton introduced in August 2019, in the Heroes Act the House passed. The Heroes Act, which has yet to pass the Senate, involves providing additional relief during to the coronavirus pandemic.
According to Moulton's spokesman, Tim Biba, the Senate version of the standalone National Suicide Hotline Designation Act has passed, and the House's version has passed out of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, making the next stop for the bill the House floor for final passage. The House could also pass the Senate version, which is procedural matter, Biba said.
In the Sept. 1 Democratic primary for the 6th District, Moulton is facing a challenge from two Topsfield residents, Jamie Belsito, an advocate for maternal mental health and a Salem State University trustee, and Angus McQuilken, co-founder of the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence and a business development executive for a global law firm.
"I have been working on access to mental health support for over a decade," Belsito said. "This pandemic has highlighted the need to have accessibility and affordability when it comes to mental health services. I applaud any and all methodologies that will give people access to mental health help. I am glad to see the congressman come around and focus some of his energies on a subject matter that he did not have a position on several years ago."
"The creation of the 988 hotline is a significant step forward in preventing suicide," said McQuilken in a text message. "To be most effective, it will require a major awareness campaign, and trained, knowledgeable staff to answer the phones who know where to refer people to for the support and services that they need. Both of those things will cost money, and I'll be working to help secure funding so that we can maximize the life-saving potential of this new hotline."
Their first debate among the three Democratic primary candidates will be a virtual one, scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 2, at 7:30 p.m. The debate is sponsored by the Swampscott, Nahant and Marblehead Democratic Town Committees and will be moderated by Jim Peterson. It will take place at Nahant Town Hall without an audience, but it will be filmed by Nahant's community access station and streamed live on YouTube at https://youtu.be/-ztpZe5bwDc. The public is invited to submit questions up to a week in advance of the debate by emailing them to Nahant.6thcd.CongressionalDebate@gmail.com.