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Commission on social services reviews 988 lifeline a year into use

The 988 suicide prevention lifeline has been in place for well over a year now in South Dakota, and officials say the program is showing signs of progress.

Now that implementation has taken place and 988 is running, the state commission on social services heard a report about its effectiveness.

Vanessa Barnes oversees the office of prevention and crisis services for the state Department of Social Services. She shared the report Tuesday.

“In looking at call volume comparison to 12 months pre-launch to 12 months post-launch of 988, South Dakota saw 110% increase in call volume alone," Barnes said. "This doesn’t include other methods of contacts like chat or text that didn’t exist prior to 988 or weren’t as implemented as they were after 988. To put it in perspective, pre-988 we were averaging less than 300 contacts per month.”

Data shared by Barnes found over 96 percent of thousands of South Dakotan 988 callers were stabilized without the need of further intervention with an average response time of just 13 seconds, and that 988 contacts had been received in each of the state’s 66 counties.

“We’ve really been promoting 988 as more than just a suicide or crisis hotline – encouraging individuals across the behavioral health spectrum including loved ones that are concerned about somebody to call 988," Barnes said. "Just having that easy to remember number of 988 is allowing more South Dakotans access to that lifesaving care.”

Barnes said making sure South Dakotans are aware of their resources will save more lives in the future.

“42 percent of our participants said they had heard of 988 and over half stated they hadn’t heard of the 988 lifeline or were unsure," Barnes said. "However, when we ask more specifically about the scope of 988 only 23 percent stated 988 was the number to use for mental health related distress, substance use, or suicide crisis. That tells us there’s good general awareness of 988, but low understanding of the purpose of the lifeline.”

988 is free to call for any person in the state experiencing a potential mental health crisis.

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