Whether people need simple answers or serious help, Helpline Center call specialists are available 24/7 to talk or text with Black Hills residents. That includes people having thoughts of suicide, people concerned about a friend or relative, and people who have lost a loved one to suicide.

Helpline Center, a United Way agency, has been operating in the Black Hills since 2006. We provide three core services: the 211 information line, which can be reached by dialing 211 or texting a zip code to 898211, helps people find local resources that can meet human service needs; Volunteer Connections connects people who want to volunteer with agencies that need help; and the suicide crisis line.

We offer the only accredited crisis line in South Dakota. From anywhere in the state, people can call 1-800-273-8255 and reach a trained professional in our call center. When a suicidal person calls, our specialists conduct a suicide risk assessment to determine if the person needs immediate intervention, which we can initiate. If there is less risk, we can help the caller develop a safety plan and connect them with local resources such as counseling and support groups.

A SAMHSA grant allows us to provide follow-up support to youth ages 10 to 24 after they are released from inpatient mental health care at Regional Health. With family approval, Helpline Center staff makes follow-up calls to the person within 24 hours of release, within one week, and on a weekly basis for a time to ensure they have the support and resources they need to heal.

We also partner with the John T. Vucurevich Foundation to publish an annual Behavioral Health Guide, which lists information on mental health providers throughout the Black Hills. The guides are enormously popular with social service agencies, government programs and school officials. These and other resources, including posters listing the 211 and crisis numbers, are mailed to every school in the Black Hills each August to ensure school personnel know about our services.

Helpline Center frequently collaborates with other non-profits. Helpline’s Heidi Bell Gease co-chairs Mind Your Health, a group of about 20 mental health providers, treatment and prevention agencies and government programs that holds an annual mental health awareness/suicide prevention event each May. The 2018 event, scheduled for May 17, will feature national speaker Kevin Hines, who survived an attempt to kill himself by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge.

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Helpline is also part of the Rapid City All Natives Suicide Coalition, which aims to reduce suicide among native youth. Grant funding allowed us to create native-themed suicide prevention materials, including bracelets with the crisis line number on them, which were distributed at the Black Hills Pow Wow in October.

The funding we receive from Rapid City supports other services in addition to suicide prevention. Our Volunteer Connections and 211 programs connect community members with volunteer opportunities and local resources. Helpline Center provides a central point of information following disasters. We also administer the AlertRC text alert program, which lets city officials quickly disseminate information about accidents, fires, etc. to the public. In addition, we work with local law enforcement and dispatch to find ways to encourage people to dial 211 instead of 911 for non-emergencies.

Helpline Center is there to provide hope when people are struggling and need to talk or when someone is concerned about a loved one. More than 10,000 calls are answered every year from the Rapid City area and hundreds of those calls are from individuals in the midst of a suicidal crisis. If you or a loved one need help, please dial 211 or 1-800-273-8255.

Heidi Bell Gease is a resource development specialist for the Helpline Center in Rapid City.

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