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Georgia first lady makes pitch for people struggling to call 988 suicide prevention hotline

Credit: iStock

by Jill Nolin, Georgia Recorder
May 14, 2024

The rollout in Georgia of the new national suicide prevention hotline is getting a boost from first lady Marty Kemp.

The first lady told reporters Tuesday that promoting the 988 hotline and tackling the stigma often associated with seeking mental health care is a priority for her. She was also recently featured in an ad promoting 988 where her message is the same as it is today: It’s OK to not be OK.

A public opinion poll done last year on behalf of the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities found that only about 16% of those asked knew about 988 and what it is.

“We’ve got to make sure that we get the word out,” Marty Kemp said. “Especially with everything the state and individuals have been through. It’s very tough with a pandemic that we never even knew we were going to have. People are struggling, and we recognize that, and we want to help them.”

Marty Kemp made the remarks Tuesday after participating in a panel discussion on the 988 suicide and crisis lifeline rollout in Georgia at the Rosalynn Carter Georgia Mental Health Forum held at the Carter Center in Atlanta.

The first lady, whose husband Gov. Brian Kemp is in his second term, is known for her work on human trafficking and promoting shelter animals, and Tuesday’s event is part of her increased involvement on the issue of mental health, particularly the ramp-up of 988.  First lady Marty Kemp participated in a panel discussion Tuesday at the Rosalynn Carter Georgia Mental Health Forum at the Carter Center in Atlanta Tuesday. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

She shared the stage with Kevin Tanner, who is the DBHDD commissioner, and moderator Ryan Greenstein, who is the associate director of public policy with the Carter Center’s mental health program.

“I think what I learned from human trafficking is we have to talk about these issues. We don’t need to be afraid of them. And I’d love to be a part of taking the stigma off that,” Kemp said, referring to mental health.

The 988 dialing code launched nearly two years ago, but states like Georgia are in the process of building out the systems to support the easier access to help that the phone number is meant to represent.

“You need to always think of 988 as more than just a number. It’s about an entire system of care,” Tanner said Tuesday.

In Georgia, where a crisis call center had long been established, the simplified three-digit number brought a jump in call volume. 

Tanner said a disproportionate share of the calls continues to come from rural Georgia, and he said they have identified two reasons for that: a lack of resources in these areas and stigma.

“If you live in a rural community and you park your Chevrolet truck in front of the clinician’s office, everyone in town is going to know that you were there,” Tanner said. “And so, you can call 988 and remain anonymous, and I think that is a big factor in why rural Georgians are calling 988.” 

Another trend that stands out: about 12% of the calls and texts are coming from Georgians under the age of 18.

Tanner said state spending has helped the call center reduce the time it takes to answer the calls, bringing it down to 12 seconds on average now. 

“Oftentimes people call 988, they just need someone to talk to. They may be connected to community-based services,” Tanner said. “But sometimes – 2,000 times on average a month – there needs to be a mobile crisis team dispatch.” 

Those mobile crisis teams are two-person units that include a licensed professional. The goal is to have these teams on scene within one hour of a call for help in metro areas and within an hour and a half in rural communities.

“That’s where we have some struggles, and that’s where it’s going to require some additional investment over the next several years,” Tanner said.

Tanner said there will also be a continued need to also increase funding for treatment centers. He pointed to a study that last year found that a total of eight additional behavioral health crisis centers will be needed over the next decade.

Tanner is set to throw out the first pitch at the Atlanta Braves home game on May 29 as part of the effort to raise awareness about 988, particularly in rural communities. He said he practiced recently at the little league park in Forsyth County with a young pitcher. 

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This story is republished from Georgia Recorder under a Creative Commons license. Read the original story.