Surging demand for suicide, crisis helplines could lead to increased funding for Texas call centers

Simple Health

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Calls to Integral Care, one of the four designated national suicide and crisis prevention sites in the state of Texas, are up 10% in the last year.

In 2020, the helpline handled over 270,000 calls and placed more than 120,000 follow-up calls to help ensure people were safe and receiving ongoing support.

If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or suicidal crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at (800) 273-8255. More than 100 local crisis centers are a part of a national network working on this lifeline and are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

And beginning next year, it will become easier than ever to get in touch with someone, which could further drive up that demand for help. It’s why lawmakers want to provide more funding and better technology for those answering the calls.

Sen. John Cornyn visited the Travis County Integral Care site on Wednesday to share details about his bill, the Suicide and Crisis Outreach Prevention Enhancement (SCOPE) Act, which was recently filed in Congress. It increases awareness of the lifeline through outreach campaigns, collects data on the people utilizing the lifeline and increases capacity for the call centers by approximately tripling the funding currently being allocated.

“We’ve learned a lot from our mistakes in terms of our failures to deal with people experiencing mental health crises and of course, this affects every single family in Texas and America,” Cornyn said.

It’s a welcomed opportunity for people like Ca’Sonya who personally benefited from the thoughtful and compassionate help from workers at Integral Care. Five years ago, after her husband died by suicide, Ca’Sonya began contemplating her own.

Locally, Integral Care answers calls made to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline within Travis County. Calls are routed to their 24/7 Crisis Helpline. You can also find more information at Texas Suicide Prevention.

“I knew that I would not make it through the year without calling someone. I needed that help so desperately,” Ca’Sonya said. “I was devastated. We were each other’s only support system.”

Cornyn’s new bill would pay for more call-takers, add telephones and improve technology to expedite resources. The State of Texas also has plans to improve its ability to respond face-to-face with a caller and provide ongoing therapies to those who need it. It’s what’s called a “continuum of care.”

“Demand today exceeds available capacity in every community across the state,” said Lee Johnson, the Deputy Director of the Texas Council for Community Centers. “That lifeline system connects to a continuum of care which is so important for Texans.”

Demand is only going to increase next year when the nation unveils its new 988 call number. Similar to 911, it’s a three-digit number people can use if they are contemplating suicide or are undergoing a mental health crisis. 988 will go live to the entire nation beginning July 2022.

“It’s really a matter of ensuring the existing sites have adequate capacity to keep up with increased demand to leverage that technology and leverage those connections that already exist in the system,” Johnson said.

Ca’Sonya was proud to share her story on Wednesday. She encouraged people to place a call if they are distressed and undergoing a mental health crisis.

“They really do care, they really do support you. There are a wide variety of resources that they provide to you,” Ca’Sonya said. “Call the hotline if you need help. Just call, they are there. Twenty-four hours a day, they are willing and able to help you.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Austin-Travis County

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