“Suicide across the nation has become an epidemic, especially with young people,” says Ryan Leavitt (BA ’11), partner at Barker Leavitt and BYU political science alumnus. He served as a lead staffer for the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act of 2018, which led to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ultimately designating the phone number ‘988’ as a connection to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Crisis Center.
By July 16, 2022, all calls made to the number ‘988’ will be directed to the national crisis center. In Utah, you can already call this number and be directed to lifesaving resources.
“Right now if someone experiencing a mental health emergency needs assistance, the lifeline number they dial to get help is really long. People who are having a hard time are not going to know where to get help,” says Leavitt. “The idea is to have a simple three-digit number like you have for life-threatening emergencies (911) that everyone knows.”
Because the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number isn’t easily remembered, people end up calling 911 instead and then, according to Leavitt, “We are directing resources inefficiently.”
Utah has the fifth-highest suicide rate in the nation and suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control. The state of Utah was in desperate need of more streamlined resources before this bill was proposed.
Leavitt worked under the direction of former 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.
Leavitt is currently a partner at a Government Affairs and Political Consulting Law Firm in Washington, D.C. and he attributes a large part of his early 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 took full advantage of internship opportunities throughout his undergraduate career, participating in the Washington Seminar and interning with the Utah State Legislature.
Over nearly a decade serving as a Congressional aide, Leavitt advised several of Utah’s Members of Congress, including Senator Orrin Hatch, Senator Mike Lee, and Congressman John Curtis among others. Utah State Senator Daniel Thatcher and Utah House Representative Steve Eliason had begun advocating in the Utah State Legislature 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 in Utah, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988. There is also a crisis text line. 988 is not currently active throughout all the states in the U.S. and 1-800-273-TALK (8255) is still in use.
If you’re looking for resources other than a hotline, please consider the following: BYU CAPS (for students), the SafeUT app, and webinars from The Hope Squad.