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Mental health hotline sees results in first months of service

South Dakota Department of Health

Over the last decade, the state Department of Health reports an increase in suicide rates. Suicide deaths are up by 50% in the past ten years.

That makes those working the 988 phone lines that much more vital. Janet Kittams, CEO of the Helpline Center which handles the hotline calls, said the results speak for themselves.

“We’ve talked to more than 5,000 people since we’ve launched 988, and that’s through calls, texts and chats," Kittams said. "People have contacted us about a variety of issues, we’ve heard about depression, anxiety, of course suicidal crisis, substance use issues, and family and relationship conflicts.”

Kittams said while each call is unique, her staff is ready to make a real difference in someone’s life.

“We are going to spend time trying to get to know the caller and what prompted them to reach out for help, and we’re of course going to complete an assessment with them and develop a safety plan," Kittams said. "It could be any number of things that will help them get back to stability.”

Spending hours on the phone helping someone through some of the most difficult moments of their life can weigh heavily on workers. Kittams said burnout can quickly become a challenge.

“Certainly, we try to take care of our staff, we have a lot of internal mental health initiatives to support our staff as they continue to work with callers that are going through difficult issues," Kittams said. "I think in general in the mental health field there’s probably been a higher percentage of burnout over the last couple of years.”

People experiencing suicidal thoughts can call 988 free of charge to talk with a crisis counselor.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture