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SC 988 suicide crisis hotline sees influx of calls, seeks more funding

According to SCDMH, calls increased 101 percent in the week after the hotlines July 16 launch. Overall, calls are up 65 percent from last year.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Two months after the launch of the 988 hotline, South Carolina's only suicide crisis call center says it needs more funding to keep up with demand. 

The three digit number replaced a longer 1-800 number tied to the National Suicide Prevention lifeline.

"We want to blast the 988 number all over but we also want to be responsible," said Director of crisis intervention services at Mental health America in Greenville Kathy Eckart. 

She said calls increased 101 percent in the week after the hotline's July 16 launch. Overall, calls are up 65 percent from last year. While the center is answering 75 percent of them, but the goal is 100 percent. 

"We know our resources better than anybody else. We know policies and procedures better in state than out of state," said Eckart.

Eckart explains the center is surviving off grants and donations and is in need of a steady source of funding.  

"If we had the funding we would like to hire at least 10 full time people and that’s only going to increase," said Eckart. 

Lawmakers approved $1.3 million in this year's budget to fund a second call center in Charleston that's expected to be online early 2023. 

RELATED: Combatting stigma of mental health in Orangeburg County

The State Department of mental health is asking for $11 million in next year's budget to fund what they call the continuum of care: someone to answer the call, someone to respond, and a safe place to go for care. 

According to the Department of Mental Health, South Carolina has mobile crisis units in all 46 counties with 16 teams. Mobile Crisis Units provide telephonic, telehealth and in-person emergency psychiatric screening and assessment 24 hours, seven days a week every year. 

There are two mental health crisis stabilization units, with one on the way in the greater Columbia area that's expected to be complete in 12 to 18 months.

Crisis Stabilization Units (CSUs) are designed to voluntarily divert people in crisis to a short-term (up to 2 weeks) psychiatric setting. The goal is to save  visits to emergency departments and inpatient psychiatric units only for those who truly need it. SCDMH is planning for an additional six throughout the state.

RELATED: 'There’s nothing weak about seeking help': SC to launch new 988 mental health hotline

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