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Mental health advocates pushing for local 988 call center to help those in crisis

The federal government recently awarded $200 million to go toward the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, to improve training efforts, infrastructure and response times

SAN ANTONIO — Millions of Americans have called 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline since launching last July, but advocates in Texas say there’s still much work to be done to improve mental health resources.

Since rolling out almost a year ago, 988 has fielded more than 2 million calls and over 1 million chat messages nationwide, according to data from Vibrant Emotional Heath. That’s a 45% increase compared to the same time the year before.

Julia Hewitt, a suicide attempt survivor, serves as the chair of American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – South Texas chapter. The organization provides a variety of assistance to people in 42 counties. 

Hewitt and fellow AFSP members took to Austin on Capitol Day in April, advocating for bolstered support of 988 and mental health funding.

In May, the federal government announced an additional $200 million to strengthen 988 operations across the country.

“The reason why we do what we do is because we ourselves have some type of connection to a loss or a lived experience,” Hewitt said.  “It’s (the funding) everything from training the counselors that are assisting those in crisis to having the telephony and the infrastructure in place to help with the correct routing of the calls.”  

NAMI of Greater San Antonio is among the organizations 988 callers are referred to for additional assistance.

The non-profit offers several programs centered around providing healing for those touched by mental health struggles.

“NAMI educates, advocates and provides support for families and individuals who are impacted by mental illness,” said NAMI of Greater San Antonio's Executive Director Doug Beach. 

Those who call 988 from Bexar County are often routed to a call center in Austin. Beach believes having a call center in the San Antonio area is essential for helping people in crisis since the trained counselors taking the calls would likely have greater knowledge on the types of local resources available in the community. 

“We definitely need a 988 call center here in Bexar County. I know we’re trying to work on that for funding, but we’re not there yet," Beach said.

Hewitt is also pushing for funds to go toward a localized 988 call center. The AFSP - South Texas team is on track to meet with lawmakers in Washington D.C. next week to amplify awareness about mental health and ways to improve the 988 lifeline. 

"It's great that there's availability, but it would be awesome to have really local support, somebody that understands maybe some uniqueness to San Antonio or other areas." 

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