CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)- Mental health advocates in South Carolina are calling for more funding to help with the change of numbers for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
On July 16, the hotline’s number will go to the three-digit number 988. Advocates say that the last call center in the state will not be able to handle the increase in calls when the change is made because more people will remember the new number.
“You’re looking at a guy who lost two brothers to suicide. God knows I wish they would have called that number,” said Dennis Gillan, the executive director of the Half a Sorrow Foundation. “For years after losing my brothers I worked on the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. I know I pulled some folks back from the ledge. You can deescalate on that lifeline.”
The South Carolina Department of Mental Health (SCDMH) does not operate the last remaining call center in Greenville. A non-profit, Mental Health America- Greenville, is in charge of the operation
“(The call center in Greenville) is answering about 80% of the calls. That’s pretty good. We want 100%,” said Gillan.
Gillan has proposed having a tax for the hotline that’s similar to the 911 tax for mobile phone users. But, he wants to have a million dollars approved for use by July so the center can be well-staffed for the change.
“One of the greatest models is our 911 system. On your phone bill and on my phone bill. I have a mobile phone bill with five lines on it,” said Gillan. “On the bottom of it is a 62 cents charge for 911 per phone line. I’m all for that because when I dial 911 I want someone to answer.”
SCDMH says that they are pursuing funding for the last remaining call center.
“The funds SCDMH is seeking are for funding the existing call center, an additional call center, and other supports, including mobile crisis staff to respond to emergencies, and crisis stabilization units for folks in need of such services,” said Jennifer Butler, the program director for the SCDMH Office of Emergency Services.
But, funding for the department that’s on the table is not as much as the $5.5 million dollars that Governor Henry McMaster suggested for the 988 change.
“The only funding included in the fiscal year 2023 State budget for 988 is a $1.3 million, one-time expenditure for the agency to establish a second call center in the Senate Finance Committee’s recommended budget,” said SCDMH.
Gillan says that an increase in call numbers mixed with an already struggling call center is a situation that needs to be avoided.
“Time is of the essence. In a crisis situation if there’s a delay in answering the call we may lose a life,” said Gillan.