The Helpline Center received a significant spike in calls in 2018, which its program coordinator says is a good thing.
When it released its 2018 annual report this spring, the Helpline Center noted that it answered 460 suicide-related calls from Black Hills residents, a 40% increase from 2017. The Helpline Center also answers the statewide suicide crisis line. Total suicide-related calls in South Dakota in 2018 were 2,334, up 27 percent from 1,831 calls in 2017.
Helpline Center operates the 211 information line as a free service available to 70% of South Dakota residents, including those in Pennington, Butte, Fall River, Custer, Lawrence and Meade counties. The center’s staff answers calls 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Audrey Nordine, Black Hills program coordinator with Helpline Center, believes the increase in mental health-related calls is a hopeful sign that more people are seeking help.
“It’s a good thing. Those people (making suicide-related calls) have always existed but now people are reaching out more than ever for themselves and their loved ones,” Nordine said. “I think it’s breaking down the stigma of mental health and suicide. More people are talking about it.
“People are grabbing the opportunity to advocate for themselves (and their loved ones). It’s an awareness of a number you can call,” she said.
Texting is a recent addition to 211 for crisis calls or other needs.
“People can text 898211 and put in their ZIP code and then our Helpline Center call specialist will text back and ask what resources (such as crisis help) they’re looking for,” Nordine said. “We do have short codes people can opt into for community events and topics of need like hunger and homelessness. To opt in, text 211bh. (Information) is sent every Thursday.”
Nordine said many people call 211 because they have numerous needs. In 2018, the Helpline Center answered 13,695 calls to 211 from Black Hills residents. Assistance with basic needs like food, housing, transportation and utilities were among the top reasons people called. Only 13.8% of calls were related strictly to mental health and addiction. Black Hills callers ranged from 6 to 95 years old; 63% were female callers, 37% were male callers, and .09% of callers identified as transgender.
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“Maybe they were calling for (help paying bills) … but maybe it turns into a mental health-related call. We see that our needs we’re meeting are always higher than the number of people calling,” Nordine said. “That’s part of our uniqueness. We’re taking those crisis calls. They’re (not just) related to providing information. We’re helping people get connected with counseling and support groups.”
Crisis outcome data is a new piece of the Helpline Center’s annual report, Nordine said. When someone in crisis calls, the goal is to develop a plan for that person’s safety. The Helpline Center staff is trained to deal with crisis calls, which include suicide, domestic violence and child abuse; for 74% of the calls, a safety plan was developed without involving law enforcement.
“The Helpline Center realized the importance of education in the human services fields like psychology, sociology and counseling. All our staff have a four-year degree or higher and we have monthly (ongoing) education. Everyone is crisis trained so we’re making sure we stay up to date,” she said.
If a caller and Helpline staff are unable to develop a safety plan, authorities are contacted.
Rapid City Police Department spokesman Brendyn Medina is trained to help in these cases.
“Our police officers are specifically trained to deal with people in crisis," he said. "They receive crisis intervention training, which not only gives them the ability to recognize the different states of mind they encounter, but also the tools to bring that person down from the point of crisis to be able to get them the help they need.”
The Pennington County Care Campus at 321 Kansas City St., conveniently near the Public Safety Building in Rapid City, has been “a tremendous asset," Medina said. The Care Campus provides a range of services for people 18 and older, and their families.
“You have all these different care providers that were scattered. Somebody can walk through the (Care Campus) door and have immediate access to treatment providers for any number of crises they could be facing — substance abuse, mental health, behavioral health, things like that. If they need help from multiple providers, they can get it (without) having to seek out the different facilities,” he said.