Crisis call volume up significantly in SC following 988 launch

Published: Sep. 14, 2022 at 7:30 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 14, 2022 at 8:06 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - The number of crisis calls in South Carolina coming in following the launch of the nationwide 988 suicide lifeline in July has gone up significantly.

At the lone center in the state picking up the phone, Mental Health America of Greenville County, it is not just calls they are answering but also now crisis texts and chats.

“Busy, hectic, but in a sense, it’s what we’ve been doing for so many years,” MHAGC Director of Crisis Intervention Services Kathy Eckart said.

Once 988 went into effect in mid-July, anyone across the country can call or text it for help if they are in a mental health crisis, no longer needing to look up a 10-digit phone number to access the free service.

Advocates updated members of the South Carolina Suicide Prevention Coalition on Wednesday on how the implementation has been going and what assistance they need from the state to keep up with rising demand.

Compared to July of last year, calls coming into Mental Health America of Greenville County are up 63%, and 75% of them coming from South Carolinians are answered by someone there.

No call goes unanswered, so if they cannot get to it, a worker in another state will.

But advocates say that is not ideal.

“It could end up in Phoenix, Arizona,” Jennifer Roberts of the Charleston Dorchester Mental Health Center said. “And do you think Phoenix, Arizona, knows the resources in South Carolina like we do? No, they don’t. But they do have information about it.”

For now, Mental Health America of Greenville County is the only crisis call center in the state.

But with more calls now coming in following the 988 launch, another is planned to open in Charleston County, projected for early 2023.

“We finally found a space, and we’re working on getting that ready for us to go,” Roberts said, adding the goal is for the Charleston center to be able to answer the other 25% of calls that workers in Greenville are unable to get to, without needing to outsource to other states.

Mental health advocates also said Wednesday that the state next needs to put more money toward these centers and suicide prevention as a whole.

“We’ve started on a great foot, but we’ve really got to fund it, as Jennifer was talking about,” NAMI South Carolina Executive Director Bill Lindsey said. “We really need to be able to staff those positions and those call centers.”

Eckart said her call center has the capacity and space for more workers but not the dollars — through sustainable funding, and not just one-time grants or donations — to make those hires.

“I have a lot of resumes on hold that are just waiting,” she said.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, help is available 24/7.

You can call or text the suicide and crisis lifeline at 988 or chat online at 988lifeline.org.

South Carolinians can also call the Department of Mental Health’s Mobile Crisis Team at 833-364-2274, a statewide service that provides on-site emergency mental health screening, assessment, and referral, as appropriate, seven days a week.