Local advocates push legislators to strengthen 988 suicide lifeline with more funding

Overwhelming number of calls requires more centers, people answering calls

SAN ANTONIO – A new bill would support the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline that was established last year, which since has been flooded with calls. It would fund more centers and establish an advisory committee.

A San Antonio man shared how he overcame dark times and turned them into purpose.

Greg Watson lost his dad to suicide in 2010, just months before he turned 21.

“I kind of fell into my own suicidal ideation and self-medication and things like that,” Watson said.

He now sits on the board of San Antonio’s chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

“Being able to bring that to light so that people that can actually make a huge difference,” Watson said.

That includes people like state lawmakers.

Watson was one of 35 advocates who met with 60 state legislators in Austin last month to push for several bills.

One bill is SB 2452 introduced by Sen. Jose Menendez.

It would support the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline that was established last year, which since has been flooded with calls.

While that’s a huge win, it means more funding is needed for expansion

The bill would increase the number of centers answering those calls.

“San Antonio doesn’t even have one now, as a major metropolitan area,” Watson pointed out.

He explained if someone dials 988 from San Antonio, they’ll likely reach someone from Austin or Houston.

Call centers would absolutely be able to direct people to local resources, but more funding would allow the expansion of infrastructure here in San Antonio.

“The bill is requesting sort of an advisory committee to help establish that infrastructure and kind of develop a certain level of standards as far as the overall service itself,” Watson said.

The committee would tackle how callers are connected to help.

“The system will connect me with somebody based on my area code rather than whatever cell phone tower that I’m connected to locally,” Watson said.

Currently, callers are being connected to help centers according to their area code, which sometimes is not where they live.

“We were meeting with Republicans, Democrats, and the like. And everybody was very receptive,” Watson said. “I think one of the bills went through his second and third reading that week.”

Watson and other advocates plan to travel to Washington D.C. to meet with federal lawmakers last month about similar issues.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health or thoughts of suicide, call 988 or text TALK to 741-741.

You can also reach out to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) or the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) at 210-223-7233 (SAFE) or 800-316-9241. You can also text NAMI to 741-741.

About the Authors:

Courtney Friedman is a KSAT anchor and reporter. She has an ongoing series called Loving in Fear, confronting Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She's also covered Hurricane Harvey, the shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe, and tornadoes throughout Texas. She’s a California native and proud Longhorn who loves calling SA home.

William Caldera has been at KSAT since 2003. He covers a wide range of stories including breaking news, weather, general assignments and sports.