“In the first week, we saw more call volume coming in…” said Jennifer Butler, director of the South Carolina Department of Mental Health’s office of emergency services.
On Saturday, July 16, the first day of 988 action, the state call center received 130 calls and answered 75 of them.
During the following day, July 17, the center received 173 calls and responded to 121 of them.
“There has been a lot of media attention which has been great for educating the public about this vital resource which is now available and easier to access,” Butler said. “We want local people (to answer calls) because they know local resources.”
The news of more calls is positive as in June the center answered an average of 75 calls per 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.
- From July 16 to July 9, calls were transferred to out-of-state call centers.
- From July 17 to 12, calls were transferred to out-of-state call centers.
But there have been concerns the number will increase once the school year begins and every student has the number 988 printed on their student ID card.
“While we’re already seeing an increase in call volume, we know that’s only going to continue, especially as more and more people become familiar with the service,” Butler said.
The problem for the call center and the SCDMH is how to deal with an overwhelming wave. Especially since the $1.3 million in funding allocated to the department is to be used to build a secondary call center in the Lowcountry slated to open in January.
“We need that $1.3 million to build that second call center to make sure there’s as much access as possible,” Butler said.
One way for those in need of mental health assistance to ease the burden of 988 is to use the statewide Mobile Crisis Unit, which received 149 calls last weekend and has a guaranteed answering machine on the other end of the line.
“So why would you use Mobile Crisis? You could use it if you were feeling suicidal and had strong mental health symptoms such as depression, sycosis, or anxiety,” Butler said. ‘use for any type of mental distress, including if it is a concurrent mental health and addiction situation.
In the meantime, the SCDMH is requesting a grant for 988 and the mobile crisis unit.
The mobile crisis number is 833-364-2274.
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Until relief came in January, Butler says that in a week, 988 saw more than just an increase in calls.
“We’re either seeing higher text volume or higher chat volume as well,” Butler said.
If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental illness, help is available 24 hours a day at the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. The number is (800) 273-8255 or 988.