As we step into 2024, we at Mental Health America of Greenville County (MHAGC) are proud to enter our 34th year of providing crucial Crisis Intervention Services (CIS) and to mark the extraordinary milestone of having responded to a half million calls, chats, and texts from individuals facing crises. We do not stand alone in celebration of this achievement. Today, we reflect both on our history of serving as a lifeline for those in need, offering compassion and support during their darkest moments, and on the people and partnerships with which we have enjoyed mutual support and collaboration in serving the mental health needs of our wider community.
Setting Up for Success
MHAGC’s CIS program got its start in 1990 with CRISISline, on which trained adult volunteers and staff accepted calls around the clock, every day of the year. Five years later, following a research study demonstrating that youth in crisis had a need to talk to other youth, the CIS program expanded to include TEENline. In time, as technology advanced and needs changed, the program developed the infrastructure to allow for chat and text services.
Throughout this growth, the CIS program continued to strive for the highest standards in crisis care and intervention. In 2005, MHAGC’s CIS program achieved accreditation from the American Association of Suicidology, and just two years later became a designated National Suicide Prevention Lifeline center and has continued to maintain these marks of high quality CIS programming continuously since that time.
Just 18 months ago, our CIS program made its greatest leap in recent history, transitioning to the three-digit 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline as part of the network of 200 Lifeline centers across the country. Despite their lifesaving work and importance to community mental health, historically, crisis and suicide hotlines have never been well resourced. While South Carolina once had three such hotlines, when the 988 legislation passed and the launch of the new number approached, MHAGC’s CIS program had the only hotline still operating in the state.
Moving Forward Hand in Hand
On its own, there is no way that MHAGC’s CIS program could have not only survived that transition, but also managed to emerge stronger in the process. MHAGC made that leap only by joining hands with state and local government, non-profit, and philanthropic organizations dedicated to the same mission – saving lives through a focus on mental health service. We have many involved and informed partners to thank for their engagement and mutual support.
BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina Foundation provided for MHAGC to upgrade our outdated phone system. Our CIS program needed to operate on a platform that would allow for internet-based phone calls that could be answered remotely as well as comprehensive reporting to track call volume and other important details. The Foundation also invested in staffing capacity, providing multi-year support for leadership training, project management services, and staff positions.
Greenville Women Giving (GWG) has extended three grants to MHAGC to support the development of technology needed to keep CIS services nimble and responsive in the face of change. In 2008, GWG awarded MHAGC its first technology grant to modernize and network our computers. They later helped us add chat and text capability to our CIS program, and in 2022, GWG supported the expansion of our remote workforce by providing new tools and technology upgrades.
Well Being Partnership of Greenville County (WBPGC), a collaboration of 78 agencies that support all aspects of mental health, has provided incredible support and resources critical to MHAGC’s 988 call center development at all stages. WBPGC was ready and generous in their offer of logistical and clinical support, financial analysis, advocacy, and accountability for quality services to help make our transition to 988 successful. Their dedication and continued support of high quality 988 services to South Carolina is reflected in their integration of 988 into their own long-term strategic plan.
In the summer of 2021, when the COVID-19 pandemic had pushed call volume and demand for mental health services to an all-time high, WBPGC supported the expansion of the Lottie Beal Gibson Center of Excellence. The expansion was funded by the Greenville County CARES Program and resulted in MHAGC, Phoenix Center, NAMI-Greenville, and PRISMA Health coming together in a multi-agency collaboration to provide co-located substance use and mental health services under one roof. MHAGC’s move into the expanded facility allowed for the kind of growth in staffing and infrastructure that helped make MHAGC’s CIS program’s move from the 10-digit Lifeline number to 988 possible.
As familiarity with and use of the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline grew following its nationwide launch in July 2022, MHAGC and the South Carolina Department of Mental Health’s Office of Suicide Prevention knew that collaboration and continued funding would be the keys to keeping the Lifeline strong and growing long into the future. Our sincere gratitude goes to Representative Bruce Bannister and all of our state legislators as well as the Governor’s office for supporting 988 initiatives. With the additional help of Senator Ross Turner, SCDMH helped to see through the needed financial backing from the state General Assembly to support both MHAGC’s ongoing call center services as well as the opening in June 2023 of a second call center. The new call center is situated in the Lowcountry and operated by the Charleston Dorchester Mental Health Center. SCDMH also provides the other two components of the 988 Crisis Care continuum – Mobile Crisis and Crisis Stabilization Units. Together, these contact centers work with the state’s over 75 911 Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) to communicate and collaborate for a safer South Carolina.
MHAGC has been joined along the way by so many other strong partners who share our commitment to mental health and have collaborated with us in supporting both our growth and the mental health needs of South Carolinians throughout this 34-year journey. With agencies such as Greater Greenville Mental Health Center, United Way of Greenville County, United Way of SC, the AmeriCorps VISTA and State and National programs, the Julie Valentine Center, Safe Harbor, and so many more, we have formed a network of support from which our community has benefited.
Strong organizations, we know, do not spring forth out of the ether. They must be built from a strong foundation and well-tended over time. That happens only with the unwavering support, hard work, and dedication of staff members, volunteers, and board members. Being present for people in crisis requires a unique set of skills – compassion, empathy, and a commitment to ongoing training. Our CIS program staff and volunteers embody these qualities. Their selfless contributions, along with those of our Board of Directors who guide our agency’s development, form the backbone of our agency and its CIS program.
As we look toward the future, MHAGC remains steadfast in its mission to provide support, reduce stigma, and promote mental well-being. We envision a community where mental health is prioritized, and everyone feels heard and supported in their journey towards recovery. We are pleased to have been able, consistently, to grow to meet the changing needs of our community, but our gratefulness for the trust our community has placed in us, reflected in the milestone of reaching a half-million contacts, is what uplifts us in this moment and pushes us toward further growth in the years ahead. Thank you for being part of this journey with us. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of those who need it most and keep hope alive in the hearts of all South Carolinians.