The 988 Suicide Prevention Hotline launched in July. How will we pay for it?

GREENVILLE, SC – The 911 mental health version will be released nationwide next month in hopes of changing the game to prevent suicide and other emergencies, but some mental health professionals are worried they won’t be ready to. cope with the expected flow of calls.

“We have all the technology,” said Jennifer Piver, executive director of Mental Health America in Greenville County, South Carolina. “We have no funds for staff, for salaries.

The new national three-digit number – 988 – aims to connect people in mental health crises with those who are specially trained to respond to such situations. The easy-to-remember number comes out on July 16.

In 2020, bipartisan legislation in Congress called for an emergency number, 988, but left financial support for staff, telephone lines, computer systems and other state infrastructure.

But most states, including South Carolina, have not allocated money for the service. Even partial legislation to implement 988 is pending in only 20 states, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Only four states, Colorado, Nevada, Virginia and Washington, have implemented comprehensive funding plans.

According to a report by Rand Corp. published last week, more than half of the public health officials in charge of launching the 988 line said they felt unprepared and without the necessary funding for staff or infrastructure to cope with the deployment.

Lack of support from lawmakers has confused mental health professionals such as Piver. South Carolina, for example, last year passed the Suicide Prevention Act with student ID cards, which requires the National Suicide Prevention Line to be printed on student ID cards for seventh-graders to university level.

The program was a success, Peaver said. “Within the first 24 hours of the first day of school, we saved the life of a young man.”

Some states have passed legislation to add a charge to mobile phone lines to pay 988, but similar proposals in many states have failed.

Every moment matters when a person in crisis or a family member calls for help. Piver and other mental health professionals across the country are worried that countries without the funds or staff will struggle to meet expected demand when the line launches next month.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 20 percent of Americans will have a mental illness each year. And reports of mental health problems have risen in recent years, even before the Covid pandemic.

An earlier government grant allowed Piver’s team in Greenville County, northwestern South Carolina, to build infrastructure for a new call center.

“We have the seats. “We have an endless amount of resources to get people to work remotely,” Peaver said.

But there is no new support, she said, to hire enough qualified people to service the lines. Calls to unsuitable call centers are queued and routed elsewhere, often to the National Suicide Hotline or other countries.

“If we don’t have people to answer the phone, time is a problem,” she said. People in mental health emergencies who are strong enough to call for help need help quickly, she said.

“Will they stay on the phone long enough to make sure they’re targeted?”

“Minutes matter.”

The director of the Laboratory for Suicide Prevention and Exposure at the University of Kentucky, Julie Cerel, a licensed psychologist, agreed.

Waiting for help makes callers in crisis “less likely to call the next time they have a problem,” Cerel said. “If they are in a crisis in which they commit suicide or are thinking of ending their lives, this could make them hang up and try to commit suicide or die from suicide.

What is 988?

The new number is expected to be easier to remember than the 800, managed by the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. It aims to streamline mental health responses so that people can get the emergency care they need much faster than by calling 911, which usually connects callers to law enforcement rather than professionals. on mental health.

Bob Gebia, chief operating officer of the American Suicide Prevention Foundation, said the 988 program was promising, but he called for additional federal and state money to implement it appropriately.

“It’s still better to have this than not,” he said, “but demand matching is a problem.”

The Greenville Call Center – the only such center certified to handle mental health calls for more than 5 million people living in South Carolina – is able to answer more than 80 percent of the approximately 100 mental health calls that come in each day. .

Piver expects the rate to fall if the state does not intervene with additional funding – and the number of calls will increase only after the introduction of 988.

South Carolina has no legislation to increase money for 988. Pewer said she was disappointed with the lack of funds, saying calls to her center had helped reduce life-threatening situations where people might otherwise have to call. police, sit in the emergency room or otherwise eventually die a suicide.

“These phone calls are really saving lives.”

The new hotline will not take effect until mid-July. If you or someone you know is in immediate crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Rescue Line at 800-273-8255, send a HOME message to 741741 or visit for additional resources.

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