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State announces new number to dial for mental health emergencies

A new number will soon be available for South Dakotans experiencing a crisis related to mental health, substance abuse or suicide.

The number 988 will be available starting Saturday to call, text and chat. It will operate 24 hours a day and seven days a week.

When the number is used, the person in need will be connected with trained crisis counselors who will offer support and assistance, and can connect the caller with local resources in their area.

"In the past, if people were in a mental health crisis, they would only think of calling 911," said Janet Kittams, president of the Helpline Center, which issued a joint news release Thursday with the state Department of Social Services. "That's not necessarily the best option for those that need mental health help."

Originally set aside by the Federal Communications Commission nearly two years ago, 988 was designed to be an easily remembered number for the public nationally.

Congress designated the new 988 dialing code to operate through the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s network.

In South Dakota, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death, but is the leading cause among ages 10-19. Additionally, drug-related deaths in South Dakota increased from 56 in 2011 to 84 in 2020.

Kittams said the Helpline Center is able to de-escalate callers 80 percent of the time.

"For that small percentage who are in imminent risk, we usually involve law enforcement to respond." Kittams said.

The national number will work in tandem with the Helpline Center, where calls will be routed to assist South Dakotans.

Marissa Brunkhorst is a junior at the University of South Dakota. She is from Hutchinson, Minnesota and is based out of the Vermillion studio.