MOLINE, Illinois-- A small group from the Quad Cities returned home Wednesday night after spending the early part of the week in Washington, D.C. They joined hundreds from across the country for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) Hill Day.
"They're tired of this epidemic being swept under the rug and not talked about," said Kevin Atwood.
The group bolstered support for a bill that would create a national, three-digit hotline number, similar to 911.
Currently, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK. People can also text the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.
The three-digit number would be a quicker alternative.
"It's something, not just the person that may be in crisis at that time, but just like 911, everyone will know that three-digit number," Atwood said. "So if there's a friend in trouble, and it's not just yourself, you still know that number and you can get them help."
During their D.C. visit, the bill met another milestone while moving through Congress; it passed out of committee. It will soon be voted on by the U.S. House of Representatives. It already passed the U.S. Senate unanimously.
"You almost cry when you hear stuff like that because it's what you're passionate for and what you go for... " said Christina Malchodi of Bettendorf. "And to know that your voices are heard and they do listen, especially when you come knocking on their door.. it makes you feel good."
The AFSP reports that nearly 45,000 people die each year by suicide in the United States. That averages out to 123 people each day.
Atwood and Malchodi have both been effected by suicide. Atwood lost his son Foster last year to suicide. Malchodi lost her fiancé Rich in 2010.
That's how they both got involved with advocacy work.
"We've both felt that pain. We've both felt and lived with that guilt. And hopefully, this prevents someone else from having to go through that," Atwood said.
They stopped by the WQAD station today to talk about their trip and how they're working to break-down the stigmas surrounding suicide.
You can watch the full conversation below.
"They think people who died from suicide are weak or that they don't care about others and what they're left with," Malchodi said. "And the truth of it is they do care."
"We need everybody's help to break the stigma and let everybody know to speak up," Atwood said. "And then we can make real change."
According to the AFSP, one person dies by suicide every six hours in Illinois. In Iowa, one person dies by suicide every 19 hours.
Suicide is the ninth leading cause of death in Iowa and the eleventh leading cause of death in Illinois.
These numbers are often under reported because suicide isn't always listed as the cause of death on death certificates.
When visiting D.C., advocates also asked lawmakers to set aside $150 million for suicide prevention and research.
"You have to know exactly what you're fighting to create change," Atwood said. "It's time that the government and people stand up so that we get the money the AFSP needs."
Malchodi and Atwood both work to ensure nobody has to experience the same loss they did.
Atwood founded Foster's Voice, which coordinates a scholarship in Foster's memory.
Atwood and Malchodi said they can be used as resources for anyone in the area struggling with suicidal thoughts.
"What I care about is their future," Atwood said. "No matter what you've done or no matter how you feel, or what someone else has done to you, there's always a future. And that's what matters."