Weekly Columns

There is a new way to get help for folks experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis and it’s as easy as dialing 988. In July, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline launched, ushering in a link to crisis centers nationwide through a toll-free number connecting callers to trained counselors for free and confidential care. 

This comes as a result of years of hard work by mental health advocates and legislators to expand access to mental health care through this critical service. After studying the feasibility of this initiative, with my support, Congress passed the bipartisan National Suicide Hotline Designation Act in 2020 to establish a quick and convenient way to get individuals the help they need so we can save lives. 

The stress of the past couple of years only exacerbated the mental health crisis that was already gripping our nation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports suicide was the 12th leading cause of death for all ages in the United States in 2020. Arkansas ranked 11th in the nation for deaths by suicide that same year. 

Investments in mental health care are more important than ever. Expanding access to critical care is essential to getting individuals the help they need. The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates health professionals answering these calls can resolve more than 80-90 percent of the challenges over the phone.

The new nationwide emergency number continues our commitment to improving services designed to confront the challenges of mental illness and deploying support tools for those at risk of suicide.

Men and women who are serving or have served in their nation’s uniform suffer a disproportionately higher rate of suicide compared to the general population. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates more than 20 veterans die by suicide every day. While we’ve increased federal funding to address this national crisis, there has been little to no improvement in reducing that number. That’s why we’ve updated the VA’s policies to support veteran-serving non-profits and other community networks that have proven effective in their outreach and better measure the effectiveness of existing programs.  

Congress approved my legislation, the IMPROVE Well-being for Veterans Act, two years ago to create a VA grant program to leverage the positive outcomes of these organizations and build on their successes. The VA received applications for the inaugural funding and is currently in the process of reviewing the submissions and awarding millions of dollars in grants to support this effort. 

Implementing a comprehensive strategy to provide mental health care and treatment is essential. The good news is there is support from every level of government. We’ve taken critical steps, but we know this is just the beginning. 

The 988 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline will save lives and I am committed to working to further improve access to mental health care for Arkansans. 

Establishing the 988 number that is easy to remember and access during a mental health crisis is a simple way we can save more lives. Preventing suicide and reaching those struggling with their mental health is all about helping them understand they are not alone and assistance is available. I look forward to the good this new lifeline will do for Arkansans who are at risk and need support.