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New 988 Suicide Hotline Launches Amid Mental Health Emergency, Pandemic, Gun Violence, Opioid Crisis

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A new 988 suicide and crisis hotline launched Saturday that people can call, text or chat. The three-digit shortcut phases out the 1-800-273-TALK number. Until now, the 988 lifeline was only available in some parts of the United States. We speak with Congressmember Jamie Raskin, who helped introduce legislation that provides funding for states to implement the rollout. His son Tommy tragically died by suicide at the age of 25 in December 2020 after a battle with depression. “We’re living in a very tough time … with COVID-19, with the opioid crisis, with gun violence, with the civil division and polarization,” notes Rep. Raskin. “These things have made it very rough on young people. The surgeon general has declared a national mental health emergency.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Congressman Raskin, we have, sadly, spoken to you about your son Tommy, who died of suicide right before the beginning of this year. Can you tell us about the suicide hotline, what has now happened nationally, that you are a key part of? He died at the age of 25, dealing with depression.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Yeah. Actually, we lost Tommy the last day of 2020. And so, it’s been a year and a half that we’ve been without him. But yeah, so, 988 is a new suicide hotline number and for people who are just in crisis to call around the country. And I’ve worked with a bunch of my colleagues to make sure that we’ve got proper funding so the infrastructure is there all around the country. We’re helping the states and the counties and cities ramp up for that, so that they’re able to deal with the volume of calls that come in under 988.

But we’re living in a very tough time, as you know, Amy, with COVID-19, with the opioid crisis, with gun violence, with the civil division and polarization — which a lot of political forces thrive on — and, of course, you know, the insurrection itself. And so, these things have made it very rough on young people. The surgeon general has declared a national mental health emergency for the young, and that’s not just young people Tommy’s age, in their twenties or adolescence, but even kids, too.

So, this 988, I hope, will be something that saves some lives and also brings consciousness to the fact that we’ve got to get together as a society, and we’ve got to look at what the cost of both ignoring big problems like climate change is, but also look at what the costs of the political polarization, division, big lies, conspiracy theories, and so on, are for our people, because it’s profoundly damaging.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Congressmember Jamie Raskin, I want to thank you so much for being with us, Democrat of Maryland, member of the House select committee investigating the January 6th Capitol insurrection, which he witnessed, author of Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy, was also lead impeachment manager in President Trump’s second impeachment trial.

When we come back, we’re going to be joined by another congressmember, Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, largest caucus in the House. This after a man was arrested on suspicion of hate crime, after neighbors said he allegedly pointed a gun at her home and threatened to kill her. We’ll talk with her about hopes for an assault weapons ban, what next for a post-Roe America, she herself having testified about having an abortion, and more. Stay with us.

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