SC mental health advocates looking for more funding as critical 988 hotline preps for launch

The 988 hotline will be just like calling 911, only it's for those experiencing a mental health...
The 988 hotline will be just like calling 911, only it's for those experiencing a mental health crisis. But it needs money.
Published: Jun. 1, 2022 at 2:52 AM EDT
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GREENVILLE, S.C. (FOX Carolina) - It’s something advocates are calling a “dire situation in South Carolina: lack of funding for mental health resources.

Local organizers are currently preparing for the launch of a 9-8-8 hotline, and say the money to help it succeed is running out fast. They add that dialing 9-8-8 will be just like calling 9-1-1., except it is designed for those experiencing mental health emergencies, like thoughts of self harm.

Dennis Gillan says he personally knows the struggles one can face with mental health very well. It’s why he founded his Greenville nonprofit, the Half a Sorrow Foundation.

“The Half a Sorrow Foundation aims to improve mental health by promoting real conversations,” Gillan told FOX Carolina. “And one of the ways we do that is I go out and tell my story about losing 2 brothers to suicide.”

“I always push people towards counseling and positive, protective factors,” he added. “One of the first things we can do by sharing our sorrow is--we cut in half.”

He says a resource like the 9-8-8 hotline, set to launch July 16th, could be so helpful to so many like him who have gone through hard times.

“Who do you call? Who responds? And where do we put them? Those 3 aspects are like a three-legged stool, and 9-8-8 is the first leg of that. It’s where everything happens,” Gillan said.

9-8-8 will housed out of the Mental Health American Greenville offices. The building that the Greenville Branch of the national organization occupies is the only one of it’s kind in South Carolina; the only center that takes calls from people in crisis and points them to local resources for help.

But there’s one big issue.

“9-8-8 was truly an unfunded mandate,” Gillan lamented. “They said ‘hey we’re all going to do this. Good luck.’”

Mental Health America of Greenville says up until now, they were federally and state funded through grant money. But by the time 9-8-8 launches, that money will be gone, and they’ll be solely reliant on donations.

“We want to meet the crisis first in this cycle,” said SC House representative for the Greenville area Chandra Dillard, who is part of a group of legislators that have taken up mental health as a top priority this legislative session.

She says this issue is something they’re trying to address quickly, but admits they’re playing a bit of catch up because many lawmakers were unaware just how large the problem loomed.

If 9-8-8 launches without adequate funding, Dillard and Gillan say the state’s only call center won’t have capacity to answer many calls, and they’ll be transferred out of state.

That’s something that both say could be dangerous, because those responding from other states may not know the best resources to point people towards locally. And especially when someone is in crisis, that’s the last thing they say can afford to happen.

“I don’t think we want that,” Dillard said emphatically. “I think South Carolinians need to talk to South Carolinians at the end of the day. Because we know our people.”

She says lawmakers are working to get $1.3 million added to the state budget to help staff the call center, which relies on both volunteers and paid employees.

“Currently there is no state funding,” Dillard said. “So anything we can give is a step in the right direction. But hopefully we can build on that.”

Gillan says 9-8-8 has so much potential. But that they need to apply a band-aid to be ready by mid-July ASAP.

“Lives are at stake,” he said. “And I worked on the help line, and I know I talked somebody back from the ledge one night. It’s some of the most rewarding work I’ve ever done. And they’re doing in every day over there.”

Dillard says they hope to have funding secured when the budget heads to Governor McMaster’s desk in mid-June.

She says the $1.3 million this year is a temporary fix, and that their goal, now that they realize how big of an issue this is, is to make state funding for 9-8-8 a direct-line item appropriation in the state budget every year.

According the the most recent data from the Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, while the national suicide average per 100,000 people went down in 2020 across the country as a whole, it went up in South Carolina.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a decline in mental health, or even if you just feel passionately and believe in this cause, and you want to help, you can donate to a variety of mental health resources/services in the area.

The Half a Sorrow Foundation: Halfasorrow.org

Mental Health America of Greenville (where the 9-8-8 call center will be): https://www.mhagc.org/donate-with-buttons.php

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Greenville: https://www.namigreenvillesc.org/get-involved/donate-now/

Greater Greenville Mental Health Center (under the SC state Department of Mental Health): http://www.greatergreenvillemhc.com/GGMHC_Services.html

Mentalhealth.gov: https://www.mentalhealth.gov/get-help

This is a developing story. Stick with FOX Carolina for updates as July 16th, the launch date for 9-8-8, approaches.