Political Science Alum Worked to Change National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Number

Ryan Leavitt, partner at Barker Leavitt, a Government Affairs and Political Consulting Law Firm

BYU College of Family, Home and Social Sciences alumnus, Ryan Leavitt, served as the lead staffer for the bill requiring The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to designate a new suicide prevention lifeline number. “Suicide across the nation has become an epidemic especially with young people” says Leavitt.

Utah has the fifth highest suicide rate in the nation and suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S. according to The Centers for Disease Control.

Leavitt worked under the direction of Senator Orrin Hatch and Congressman Chris Stewart who authored the bill requiring the FCC to change the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline from 1-800-273-TALK to 988 in the next eighteen months.

“Right now if someone experiencing a mental health emergency needs assistance, the lifeline number they call to get help is really long. People who are having a hard time are not going to know where to get help” says Leavitt.  

Leavitt worked to create legislation which was signed by President Donald Trump called the Hotline Improvement Act of 2018. This act required a study by the FCC to determine the best three-digit code for the lifeline. The code 988 was determined to be the most effective. The FCC voted unanimously in December of 2019 to approve the proposal. This proposal will require carriers to implement 988 for a suicide prevention and mental health crisis lifeline.

 “The idea is to have a simple three-digit number like you have for 911 that everyone knows. The challenge is people don’t know the suicide lifeline number and they call 911 instead and then we are directing resources inefficiently.”

After almost ten years of public service Leavitt says, “The suicide lifeline bill is the piece of legislation I am personally most proud of.”

Leavitt, is currently a partner at a Government Affairs and Political Consulting Law Firm in D.C. and he attributes his career success to his educational opportunities starting with his undergraduate education at Brigham Young University. Leavitt earned a degree in Political Science in 2011. He built strong relationships with his professors and admits “I have BYU professors that I still keep in close contact with now, years later”.  Leavitt took full advantage of internship opportunities throughout his undergraduate career, participating in the Washington Seminar and interning with the Utah State Legislature.

Within one week of his graduation, Leavitt accepted a job with Senator Mike Lee and moved to D.C. After graduating from law school at George Mason in 2014, he was hired by Senator Hatch as an attorney on the Senate Judiciary Committee Staff.

Serving as a legislative staffer, Leavitt was assigned to advise Senator Hatch on Telecommunications. Utah Senator David Thatcher and Congressman Steve Eliason had begun advocating in the Utah State Legislative Sessions to designate a three-digit number as the suicide prevention hotline number in Utah. The Utah senators then solicited the help of Senator Hatch and Congressman Stewart to expand their proposal nationally.

Leavitt describes the bill as a “great hope” for those struggling with mental health.

To get help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). There is also a crisis text line. 988 is not currently active and will be implemented in the next eighteen months.

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