988 suicide hotline helping thousands in Georgia, South Carolina

AUGUSTA, Georgia – New data shows that thousands of residents in Georgia and South Carolina are relying on the 988 Crisis Lifeline that was launched to prevent suicides.

The number was launched in mid-July, and now anyone across the country can call or text him for help if he’s in a mental health crisis, having no no more searching for a 10-digit phone number to access the free service.

In the first 45 days, the 988 number in Georgia received 37,561 calls, texts and chats, according to the Georgia Crisis and Access Line. Of these, operators were able to help rescue 476 callers believed to be in danger.

About 10% of all callers in Georgia were 18 or younger.

“It tells me that if teens are reaching out, we need to meet them where they are,” said Rachael Holloman, director of suicide prevention for the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities.

Meanwhile, the number of crisis calls in South Carolina has increased dramatically.

At the only center in South Carolina that picks up the phone, Mental Health America of Greenville County, it’s not just calls they’re answering, but also now text messages and crisis chats.

“Busy, hectic, but in a way, that’s what we’ve been doing for so many years,” Kathy Eckart said.

With more calls now coming in after the launch of 988, another is set to open in Charleston County, slated for early 2023.

On Wednesday, advocates updated members of the South Carolina Suicide Prevention Coalition on how the implementation is progressing and what help they need from the state to meet the growing demand.

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

No call goes unanswered, so if they can’t access it, a worker from another state will.

But defenders say it’s not ideal.

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

Mental health advocates also said Wednesday that South Carolina needs to spend more money on these centers and on suicide prevention as a whole.

“We started off on the right foot, but we really need to fund it, as Jennifer was talking about. We really need to be able to fill those positions and those call centers,” said NAMI South Carolina executive director Bill Lindsey.

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