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Texas mental health advocates lobbying for funding and resources to support 988 suicide prevention lifeline

In December, 67% of Texans who called 988 were connected to a counselor in-state versus 88% in California.

SAN ANTONIO — More than 2 million people nationwide have called or texted the 988 Suicide and Prevention Lifeline since it launched last summer. Meanwhile, mental health advocates in Texas are pushing for a more robust system that financially supports the revamped suicide prevention phone line. 

In December, 67% of Texans who called 988 were connected to a counselor in-state versus 88% in California.

Texas has not allocated funding specifically for 988 unlike other states such as Washington, which have passed legislation to create a phone line tax for helping operate 988 services. 

“I am an attempt survivor and I care for somebody that was a continuous attempter and I also experienced a couple losses that sort of led me down the path of wanting to understand more,” said Julia Hewitt, chair of the South Texas chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).

AFSP led the way in advocating for the federally established 988 system as a simpler way for people who want to connect with a counselor by calling or texting.  AFSP offers a variety of educational programs for those experiencing mental health challenges.

One of the programs is called Talk Save Lives, which creates an opportunity for people to speak about their struggles in a comfortable environment. 

Plans are underway for AFSP representatives to lobby in Austin and Washington D.C.

“We started seeing the need for more lobbying for resources and funding just because right away within the first three months of the 988 going live we saw an increase in volume,” Hewitt said. “It became apparent that we need better staffing and more localized staffing as well to where if I call, I will get a person in San Antonio where I am.”

Some 988 callers are being referred to NAMI Greater San Antonio (National Alliance on Mental Illness), an organization that aims to bring hope to Texans through educational opportunities. 

Family to Family is one of the programs, which NAMI Greater San Antonio’s executive director Doug Beach said is critical in destigmatizing conversations around mental illness. 

“It’s taught to other families so that you learn not only about mental illness but how to communicate. You learn how to communicate, you learn about resources, you learn about how to handle a crisis if it does come along,” Beach said. 

To learn more about the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, go here.

To see what services and programs are offered by NAMI Greater San Antonio, go here.

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