ATLANTA — Most calls from Georgians to a national mental health crisis hotline launched last year have come from rural areas of the state, particularly counties in South Georgia, a state mental health official said Thursday.
The comparatively large volume of calls from rural Georgians to the 988 number since the hotline went live in July 2022 dovetails with a significantly higher number of suicides reported in rural Georgia, Ashley Fielding, an assistant commissioner with the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, told members of the Georgia House Rural Development Council meeting at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro.
Suicides in rural Georgia have increased by 66% in the last 20 years, she said.
Fielding suggested the higher number of rural Georgians experiencing mental health issues who reach out to the hotline is due to the combination of a lack of mental health-care resources in rural counties and the stigma rural residents feel about seeking help.
“Anecdotally, we know access to outpatient services is limited in rural Georgia … (and there’s) a reluctance to accept and reach out for care,” she said.
Fielding said her agency has stepped up during the last two fiscal years with $6.2 million for mental health crisis mobile response teams. This year’s budget also includes $10 million for the crisis center in Dublin and $7 million for the center in Augusta, she said.
The department also is using $2 million to conduct a statewide listening tour to hear from farmers and faith leaders on how mental health issues are affecting their communities.