In 2020, Congress passed the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act which sought to address a crisis nationally in mental health. The bill created a national crisis hotline: 9-8-8, an easy number to remember in a time of crisis. The hotline is a direct line to trained National Suicide Prevention Lifeline counselors. Georgia residents can also call the Georgia Crisis and Access Line available 24/7 at 1 800 715 4225
Initially, the hotline is funded by the federal government through the American Rescue Plan. Later, states will have to pursue statewide funding. The bill allows states to enact telecommunications fees to help support 9-8-8 operations. The hotline is administered by the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (“SAMHSA”), a federal agency. SAMHSA provided all states and territories nearly $105 million in grant funding thru the American Rescue Plan. Future funding will depend on volume and needs of community.
In July 2022 Georgia rolled out the 9-8-8 crisis hotline. The hotline provides counseling for emergencies regarding threats of suicide, substance abuse and mental health crises. This year, Governor Kemp red-lined $2.2 million earmarked for 9-8-8 funding in the FY 2024 budget. State officials say 9-8-8 has led to a 12% increase in call volume since last year and the Georgia crisis line has had 40% increase in call volume since 2020. Demand is growing in rural communities. Kemp also nixed salary bumps for mental health professionals. While state tax collections were slightly down (0.4%) from last year, the state still maintains a budget surplus of $4.8 billion.
Only eight states have enacted legislation to fund the 9-8-8 hotline through phone fees. Others are relying on short term funding. Mental health experts and call center operators say more money is needed to ensure citizens receive the care they need. Many predominantly rural states where mental health services are in short supply have not made long-term plans to provide support. Since last summer 9-8-8 has received almost 5 million contacts. Since the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline transitioned a year ago to the three digit crisis phone number 9-8-8 there has been a 33% increase in the number of calls, chats and texts.
According to SAMHSA 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Helath 8.47% of Georgia residents had a major depressive episode in the past year. 4.7% had serious thoughts of suicide. 29.4% of Georgia adults report symptoms of depression or anxiety and 29.3% wwere unable to access counseling.