Lowcountry Headlines

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New suicide prevention lifeline to overwhelm local resources

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - On July 16, the United States is getting a new three-digit number for emergencies. 

988 is the number people will be able call for help during a mental health crisis. However, implementing the new suicide prevention lifeline in South Carolina is proving to be a challenge. 

The problem is there is only one call center in the state that will fields calls from the 988 number and it already can’t keep up with the ever growing demand. 

That call center is called Mental Health America and it’s located in Greenville County. Right now, they’re able to answer about 80 percent of the South Carolina calls and they expect that number to go exponentially down when 988 goes online and more people become aware of the new number. 

Bill Lindsey is the executive director of NAMI South Carolina and says they’re trying to get another call center in the Charleston area to help relieve some of the pressure. 

“The one that we’re looking at in Charleston is the one that has been used for mobile crisis or SC hopes and they’d like to see that expanded. What we don’t have is a lot of involvement with getting the funding necessary to keep this thing up and running,” Lindsey said. “The legislature was looking at putting about $1.3 million into Charleston facility to bring it up to speed. I don’t know where we are on that. It looks like we’re back to square one.” 

Lindsey says the plans for 988 have been in the works for more than a year, but there’s still no investment into mental health facilities to expand call capacity. 

“You know, we’re in one of the largest mental health crisis that this country has ever seen coming out of a pandemic and particularly involving youth,” Lindsey said. “Youth suicide rate is just out the roof, particularly here in South Carolina. It’s gone up in that age range of 10 to 18. The number two cause of death in South Carolina for that age group is suicide.” 

Executive Director of Mental Health American of Greenville County Jennifer Piver says if the local lines are busy, someone will still pick up but they won’t be from South Carolina and Piver says that’s not ideal. 

“Time matters and having folks routed around - they’re going to talk to great folks but that takes time and if there’s a life threatening situation, that time literally can be the matter of life and death,” Piver said. 

Right now, the call center has about 21 full time employees. With the projected increase in calls, Piver says they’ll need 105 to answer every call in South Carolina. 

There is still time to fund an expansion. The South Carolina Legislature is still discussing the budget. There’s a place holder figure of $1 in for 988 expansion. That means lawmakers could still adjust that figure when they meet again to approve the budget. 

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