SPRINGFIELD, Ill. —  A bill to fund Illinois’ new mental health hotline passed the Senate Mental Health committee earlier this month. 

The Federal Communications Commission is requiring all 50 states to create 9-8-8 as a shortcut to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline by July 16th. Illinois created a law establishing 9-8-8 last year, and is now trying to secure funding for the state to field calls once the hotline opens. 

State senator Laura Fine (D-Glenview) sponsored the bill and says it could also save law enforcement from responding to an avalanche of mental health calls that might be better handled by social workers.

“With 9-8-8, not only will we get the people the help they need,” Fine said, “but we’ll also take the burden off of our police officers who are designed for public safety and allow people who have mental health needs to get the services from the providers that they need.”

According to Teklii DeyKoontz, Executive Director of Champaign chapter’s of the National Alliance of Mental Illness, the goal is for most 9-8-8 calls to be handled by phone operators, but have the ability to send social workers to severe cases. 

DeyKoontz hopes the short, easy-to-remember phone number will connect more people in crisis to potentially life-saving resources. In 2020, 1,488 people died by suicide in Illinois. 

“There’s been a lot of times where you kind of have this helpless feeling, and you want to reach out to people and you’re not sure what to do or where to go,” DeyKoontz said. “And I think 9-8-8 helps facilitate that [message]; hey, you’re not alone. And there are places to go.”

The bill was unanimous in committee and can go to the Senate floor once the Senate session resumes. 

Until the hotline launches, Americans should call 1-800-273-8255 if they need mental help.