For anyone contemplating suicide, the number to call is 1-800-273-8255.

But that 10-digit number could go down to three and be as easy to memorize as 9-1-1 under proposed federal legislation.

Colorado's U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner introduced on Tuesday the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, which would designate 9-8-8 as the number to call for suicide prevention and support in a mental health crisis.

"Approximately every seven hours, a Coloradan dies by suicide,” Gardner said in a statement. “As the father of three young Coloradans, it breaks my heart to know that youth suicide rates have increased by 58 percent in the last three years.”

Legislation in 2018 directed the Federal Communications Commission to analyze whether a three-digit code would be effective. Recommendations for other numbers included 2-1-1 and 5-1-1. 

“The combination of the N11 number and the message that mental health crises and suicide prevention are of equivalent importance to medical emergencies would, over time, bring needed parity and could result in additional attention and resources to improve typical local psychiatric crisis services throughout the nation,” the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services wrote.

The national lifeline is a network of 163 call centers. Incoming calls are typically routed to the nearest geographic location. The lifeline answered 2.2 million calls last year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that from 1999 to 2016, suicides increased in every state but one, and increased by nearly 4 percent from just 2016 to 2017 alone. More than 20 veterans die by suicide each day, and the LBGTQ population is at elevated risk as well.

A companion bill in the U.S. House is cosponsored by Colorado Democratic Reps. Diana DeGette, Joe Neguse and Ed Perlmutter.

"We hope that any measure passed will also include a marketing budget to increase awareness," said Sarah Brummett, director of Colorado's Office of Suicide Prevention, "as well as crucial funding to support the staff in call centers across the country that ensure that National Suicide Prevention Lifeline calls are answered in a timely and evidence-based way."

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct that Gardner is the sponsor of the bill.

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