SALT LAKE CITY — State lawmakers are looking at a series of bills in support of Utah's new mental health crisis line.
To address the state's continuing rise in suicide deaths, Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, asked lawmakers Wednesday for support in opening bill files to establish a statewide, three-digit crisis number similar to 911 and text support for the crisis line.
"If your house is on fire, you know where to turn for help: You call 911," Thatcher told the Political Subdivisions Interim Committee. "Where do you turn if you need mental health? Where do your turn when your kid wakes you up at three in the morning and tells you they're suicidal?"
Thatcher earlier this year sponsored SB37, leading to the creation of the Mental Health Crisis Line Commission. Since then, the commission has studied Utah's mental health crisis lines and has learned that many of the 24-hour lines throughout the state are not doing enough to help people in crisis, he said.
A number of the lines simply defer callers to 911 dispatchers, which Thatcher says is not an effective solution.
"Not only are they not therapists, not only are they not counselors, but they cannot spend 30 minutes on the phone with someone that's suicidal," he said.
Worse still, some counties send callers through a push-button menu instead of placing them directly on the line with another person, Thatcher said.
Ross VanVranken, executive director of the University Neuropsychiatric Institute at the University of Utah, recommended that state crisis lines either provide staffing to handle 24-hour human support or be able to forward crisis calls to lines that can. If those secondary lines can't handle the calls, callers could then be transferred to resources in another state, he said.
"What I'm saying with this is that there always is somebody live that will answer that call and then circle back with that state where the call came from to provide information so that you can actually initiate some kind of intervention," VanVranken said.
The commission has been working with Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Chris Stewart, as well as the Federal Communications Commission, to get a statewide, three-digit number tied in with numbers established on a national level, he said.
VanVranken also said the commission is hoping to attach a "short code," allowing people to text into the crisis line. The commission aims to link the number and the text support, and to have mobile crisis outreach teams to respond to callers, creating an "integrated suicide crisis intervention system," he said.
It would take about $2.5 million annually to keep the crisis lines properly staffed, VanVranken said.