Students & advocates plead for funding to address mental health, 988 call center in Greenville Co.

GREENVILLE COUNTY, SC (WSPA) – Students and mental health advocates asked for additional funding to be dedicated to the 988 mental health hotline. They went before the Greenville County Legislative Delegation on Monday night.

“The suicide hotline can barely stay afloat due to lack of funding,” said Kelyn Bayne, Co-President of Minds Matter at Mauldin High School.

“Imagine your son, your daughter, or your grandchild who is reaching out to 988 in a time of need, and they are greeted with silence on the other side of the phone. No one is there to answer, or they have to wait multiple hours, all because the hotline doesn’t have enough money to hire more workers or gain more volunteers,” Bayne said in her speech to the delegates.

This is a real concern for some students in Greenville County.

“I’d say that this is definitely a problem that can’t be ignored,” said Natalie Flinch, Co-President of Minds Matter at Mauldin High School. “No matter who you are, you have somebody that affects, rather that’s a relative or a grandchild or something. Mental health affects everybody,”

“Mental health in schools is so important, and it needs to be dealt with,” Flinch said. “So, that’s why we feel so passionate, and that’s what we want to try to spread the word about.”

“Why is 988 on my school ID if it doesn’t have enough funding to operate properly,” Bayne said.

District officials have recognized the need too.

“The school idea badges from what we’re hearing, students are using them. They are calling the crisis center, but part of the problem is that the crisis center only has enough funding for about three staff members at any given time, and the calls are so great that it requires about 25,” said Dr. Ellen Hampshire, Coordinator, Multi-Tiered Systems of Support at Greenville County Schools.

“What happens is that if somebody can’t pick up the phone then it goes to another office. Then, it goes further and further away from Greenville. So, somewhere else in the state, where they might not know our resources, or the student has to wait until connects them to a person,” Hampshire said.

“You can imagine, if you’re in crisis and then having to wait for somebody to help you, and you’re still a child really and having an issue, it can be pretty frustrating and so some students just hang up,” she said.

It’s the reason students from multiple schools and advocates are asking lawmakers for funding to have more people answering the call at the call center in Greenville.

“Nationwide Lifeline reports that the phone calls have increased about 45 percent and the chats and text are increasing exponentially,” said Jennifer Piver, Executive Director, Mental Health America of Greenville County / 988 Call Center.

“We’ve had some great partners through the Department of Mental Health [and] Department of Education helping us through grant funds, but we don’t have sustainable funding at this time,” Piver said. “So, that’s what we’re looking for, is funds to help us staff up, so that we do answer all the calls in state.”

“We’ve been told by DMH in Columbia that they have adequate funding and that is incorrect,” said Nacole House with the Regional Education Center Advisory Board. “So, we’re actually asking if we could realign their government agency, just to something that we can manage, to make sure that the safety of the students is taken care of.”

House has been appointed by the Greenville County Legislative Delegation to address mental health in the area.

Students are also asking for more money to help with social and emotional learning.

“Our goal is to really raise awareness surrounding mental health and bring it up to the school board once again, so they will not forget that mental health is a very important topic that needs to be destigmatized,” Bayne said. “We’re also hoping to advocate for increase funding towards social and emotional learning, 988, and club organizations surrounding mental health.”

Bayne said she personally knows people who suffered from mental illness.

“I remember, I think my eighth-grade year, one of my cousins ​​started cutting herself and hurting herself,” Bayne said. “Then I got to high school, and there was a student who committed suicide my freshman year.”

All parties believe this problem needs to be addressed quickly by everyone, especially those in power.

“Lives are precious and we don’t need to lose another soul to suicide,” Bayne said. “I am for Greenville and funding towards 988 and SEL, would mean you are for Greenville too.”

During the meeting, one delegate said, “mental health is important to me,” he said. “From my understanding, I saw some studies [on] the crisis that our students face in Greenville County compared to previous years, to the numbers we are seeing now.”

“I ask the members here to pay attention, it seems like our students are suffering,” the delegate said to other members.

After the students addressed the Greenville County Legislative Delegation, the chairperson stated they wanted to stay in touch with the group of students and advocates.

The chairperson also told the group to let the delegates know how they can help.

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