CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)- South Carolina’s only National Suicide Prevention Lifeline call center is seeing an increase in calls after the lifeline changed its number to 988 one week ago.
“In the first week we saw more call volume coming in, particularly on Sunday,” said Jennifer Butler, the Director of the South Carolina Department of Mental Health Office of Emergency Services.
On Saturday, July 16, 988’s first day in action, the in-state call center received 130 calls and answered 75 of them.
During the next day, July 17, the center received 173 calls and answered 121 of them.
“There was a lot of media attention which was wonderful to educate the public about this vital resource that is now available and easier to access,” said Butler. “We want local people (to answer calls) because they know local resources.”
The news of more people calling in is positive because in June the center answered an average of 75 calls a day.
Unanswered In-State Calls from 988’s First Weekend in South Carolina
- July 16- 55 calls disconnected before being answered.
- July 17- 52 calls disconnected before being.
- July 16- 9 calls were forwarded to call centers out of state.
- July 17- 12 calls were forwarded to call centers out of state.
But there have been concerns about numbers growing once the school year starts and every student has the 988 number printed on their student identification card.
“If we are already seeing an increase in call volume we know that would likely only continue especially as more people become familiar with the service,” said Butler.
The issue at hand for the call center and SCDMH is how to handle an overwhelming surge. Especially, since the 1.3 million dollars in funding allocated for the department needs to be used for the construction of a secondary call center in the Lowcountry that is slated to open in January.
“We need that $1.3 million to build that second call center so we make sure there is as much access as possible,” said Butler.
One way those who need mental health assistance can take the burden off of 988 is by using the statewide Mobile Crisis Unit, which received 149 calls last weekend and has a guaranteed responder on the other end of the line.
“So why would you use Mobile Crisis? You could use that if you were feeling suicidal and if you were having strong mental health symptoms such as depression or sycosis or anxiety,” said Butler. “You can use that for any type of mental health distress including if it is a co-occurring mental health and substance abuse situation.”
In the meantime, SCDMH is applying for grant money for 988 and the Mobile Crisis Unit.
The Mobile Crisis number is 833-364-2274.
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Until relief comes in January, Butler says that in one week 988 has seen more than just an increase in calls.
“We are either seeing a higher text volume or a higher chat volume as well,” said Butler.