CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)- Money to fund the shift for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number to 988 for the South Carolina Department of Mental Health has support in the state legislature, but the impacts won’t be felt right when the number changes.

“There’s a lot of support amongst the membership to make sure (SCDMH) gets the funding to meet this need,” said Representative Leon Stavrinakis, who is from District 119 in Charleston.

The funding, 1.3 million dollars, is for a secondary call center in Charleston. The only call center for the lifeline is run in the Upstate by the non-profit Mental Health America of Greenville County (MHAGC).

Mental health advocates are worried about the toll an increase in calls will take on the state’s only call center when the change happens starting July 16 and the number is easier to remember.

“We’re concerned and struggling to find those funds to fill the gaps,” said Jennifer Piver, the Executive Director of MHAGC. “We are just passionate about making sure (people) get served in state.”

The Charleston call center, which will be run by the South Carolina Department of Mental Health (SCDMH), won’t be operational until December or January.

“You have to go through the certification process which can take three to six months. We are trying to get this going as quickly as we possibly can,” said Jennifer Butler, the Director of SCDMD’s Office of Emergency Services.

Representative Stavrinakis says that funding could be moving forward for approval next week. But, it will not include money for the Greenville County call center.

This has left Piver and her non-profit to look for other sources of income.

“We are actively trying to find grants and we even have a GoFundMe page to try and fill in the gap,” said Priver. “For every dollar that we got as we were working through the planning grant funds we were able to answer more calls than we’ve ever answered.”

SCDMH is also looking for funding through grants, state and federal money. The department is trying to spread the word about how to get help from other resources.

“We’re working with 911 across the state to say ‘How do we as the three emergency lines be able to operate as partners to make sure people get to the line that they need to be calling? When do you call 911? When do you call 988? When do you call mobile crisis with the Department of Mental Health?’,” said Butler.

Mental Health Resources in South Carolina

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline- 1-800-273-8255 or 988 as of July 16
  • Crisis Text Line- Text HOPE4SC to 741741
  • Mobile Crisis Unit
  • 911 Emergency Medical Services

For eight months, Piver’s call center has answered over 82% of calls despite an increase in volume. But the call numbers are expected to be higher once the school year begins.

988 will be printed on every grade school student’s identification card for the 2022-2023 school year.

“That amount of volume wasn’t in the forecast. We’re expecting a bigger call volume from our youth,” said Piver.

As the Suicide Lifeline becomes more accessible to children than ever before, advocates have a message to parents about how to handle mental health.

“Just incorporate that into your family’s DNA that that (the mental health) conversation needs to happen at the dinner table. It’s an icky conversation at times. Maybe you don’t want the answer, but you do want the answer,” said Dennis Gillan, the Executive Director of the Half A Sorrow Foundation.

Gillan has a simple piece of advice for parents who are having a difficult time getting through to their children.

“Be persistent. Keep asking the question. ” said Gillan.