As 988 hotline prepares for launch, funding concerns remain
GREENVILLE, S.C. (FOX Carolina) - Mental health advocates in South Carolina say we could be headed into a “dire situation,” as the state prepares to launch its 988 hotline; the big issue being lack of funding.
If you haven’t seen or heard advertisements for 988 in recent weeks, you likely will soon. The national hotline is set to launch July 16th, and is a federal mandate that all states are adopting.
Dialing 988 will be just like dialing 911, except it will be for those experiencing mental health emergencies, like thoughts of self harm and severe depression.
“July 16th is coming whether we like it or not. It was a federal law and it’s happening,” said Dennis Gillan, founder of the nonprofit Half a Sorrow, located in Greenville.
Gillan says they’re hoping that the start of 988 next weekend isn’t too fast, because of how thin call centers are stretched right now.
“Hopefully it’s an incremental rise,” he told FOX Carolina. “And people start figuring out that this is where you go.”
Gillan’s nonprofit focuses on helping people with mental health issues through sharing their sorrow, and creating a community to build them back up.
He has firsthand experience, having lost two brothers to suicide.
“We’re vulnerable,” said the Half a Sorrow Foundation founder. “And there’s strength in that vulnerability. I would just encourage folks: if you feel you’re going through something bigger than yourself--share it.”
But he and Jennifer Piver, Executive Director for Mental Health America of Greenville, say there’s one big roadblock.
“At this point in time, 988 does not have sustainable funding,” Piver explained.
South Carolina’s only 988 call center, located at MHA headquarters in Greenville, was funded by state grants. But that money has run out, and the Palmetto State has no current plans to contribute.
“The federal government left it to the states to figure out how to fund it,” Piver lamented.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is projecting South Carolina’s 988 line will get 117,000 calls its first year. Piver says without adequate funding, they won’t be able to properly staff the main call center, and many of those calls could go out of state.
“If someone has done something to end their life, like take pills, or something, we want to make sure that emergency response and collaboration with 911 is happening locally,” she said. “And that we can get there as soon as possible.”
South Carolina legislators we’ve spoken to say they’re aware of the problem and are looking to make funding for 988 a line items in the state’s budget. But so far, representatives say they haven’t been able to get anything to Governor McMaster’s desk. Piver and Gillan say that needs to happen, so more lives can be saved.
“Let’s pay now, instead of paying later,” Gillan said. “Let’s take care of these people before they hit the streets.”
“Being there when they decide to reach out is critical,” Piver added.
988 launches at midnight on July 16th. If you are experiencing thoughts of depression, self-harm, suicide, and more, simply dial those 3 numbers to connect with someone to talk to.
To learn more about 988 and its mission, you can visit: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/current-events/the-lifeline-and-988/
For frequently asked questions about 988, check out: https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/988/faqs
Right now, the Greenville 988 call center at Mental Health America of Greenville is solely reliant on donations. To donate, visit https://www.mhagc.org/988sc.php and click the “donate” tab at the top of the homepage (https://www.mhagc.org/donate-with-buttons.php).
To volunteer with MHA, visit: https://www.mhagc.org/volunteer.php
The Half a Sorrow Foundation also supports efforts to raise awareness about mental health and assist those in crisis. They also partner with MHA and will be directing callers who need the service to 988. You can visit their website at https://halfasorrow.org/. They also have a “donate” tab at the top of the homepage, https://halfasorrow.org/#donate
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