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Texas' 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline centers experience almost 10,000 calls in first month

Mental health advocates say the lingering effects of the pandemic and mass shootings have prompted an increase in need for services.

SAN ANTONIO — Thousands of Texans have called the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline since it launched a month ago, indicating a growing need for more mental health resources statewide. 

988 is a simplified version of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s 1-800 number, providing Americans an opportunity to call or text crisis counselors at any time of the day. 

The trained crisis counselors are located at more than 200 Lifeline centers across the country, which are operated by Vibrant Emotional Health. The Lone Star State is home to five of these centers, one of which is not contracted by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.  

In 2020, only 40% of Lifeline’s calls in Texas were answered by in-state centers, according to data published by the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Staffing shortage and absence of funding are the primary reasons for the re-routing of calls to out-of-state crisis centers.

Rose Arizola, who works for NAMI San Antonio (National Alliance on Mental Illness, says the stigma surrounding mental health is an ongoing barrier for those wishing to seek help.  

“Most people don’t know where to begin,” Arizola said. 

The confidentiality of 988 could be the first step for people to realize there’s hope as nearly one in five Americans live with mental illness.  

“The new thing about the 988 is that it’s more updated as far as having (a) more simplified version if they need a mobile team out there, if somebody needs to be in-patient or if someone wants to talk,” Arizola said.

Th five Texas Lifeline centers answered 9,016 calls in July, which is 4,100 more calls compared to July of 2021. 988 callers may be referred to local mental health authorities for additional assistance.

The Center for Health Care Services in San Antonio has received a little more than a hundred referrals since 988 launched. 

“Really our mission is to make peoples' lives better,” said Allison Greer Francis, vice president of governmental relations. 

The organization provides mental health and substance abuse treatment for people from all backgrounds, including programs designed for children and veterans. 

The Center for Health Care Services also provides a state-mandated 24/7 crisis and substance abuse phone line. 

Keeping up with the demand in services may prove challenging as more people reach out for help following the lingering effects of the pandemic and anxiety stemmed from mass shootings. 

That’s why she’s calling on state lawmakers in the upcoming legislative session to prioritize mental health care by significantly increasing funding.

“Texas ranks at the bottom or near the bottom in terms of funding," Francis said. "We could always use more funding for outpatient services. We’re also talking about the 988 transition.”


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