GREAT FALLS - Three call centers in Montana — Voices of Hope in Great Falls, The Help Center in Bozeman, and Western Montana Mental Health Center in Missoula — have trained crisis counselors ready to answer when someone calls the Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Over the last three years, they’ve averaged 10,000 calls each year. More than 90% of those are handled in-state, with the rest sent to another call center through a national backup network. Voices Of Hope has seen an increase in attention following the launch earlier this month of the new national three-digit suicide prevention number — 988.
“There’s a lot of test calls seeing if 988 works in their area. Not a problem. Everybody’s curious and they should know if it works. But remember, 988 isn’t quite a new resource. It’s taking the place of the lifeline number of the 1-800-273-TALK,” said Jackie Gittins, the director at Voices of Hope.
One of three call centers in Montana, they have trained crisis counselors and intervention specialists ready to answer when someone calls the Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
“We’re all individuals and we’re going to look at the individual and focus on what they’re feeling and what they’re going through to try to correct some of the things that are happening in their lives,” said Gittins. “Sometimes they just want their side of the story heard and to vent it out and talk it out. A lot of times in talking it out, they come up with their own conclusions on how to fix it and how to improve things.”
Gittins pointed out that the goal of the shortened number was to make resources more accessible to people who need them. “That was the goal is to make it an easy-to-use number so people didn’t have to have it written down. They just know it off the top of their head.”
Gittins also commented that this takes some of the pressure off of 911 who respond to emergent situations. As this number will create more of a distinction between the police department and the suicide prevention center, it will hopefully lessen the stigma surrounding getting help and make mental health resources more accessible to those in the community.
In 2020, the CDC reported that Montana had the third-highest suicide rate in the nation, with Wyoming and Alaska having higher rates. The DPHHS reports that suicide has been the number two cause of death for those ages 10 to 44 in the state for the past 10 years.
Gittins urges those experiencing a mental health crisis to reach out. “You have nothing to lose and everything to gain because we're not going to call the cops. We’re anonymous. If we call the cops because we need you to be admitted to the hospital or transported, you're going to know. We're going to tell you you're going to be part of that solution and you have to agree on it.”
With the expected increase in calls since the launch of the new number, Voices of Hope is hiring. “We look for crisis line intervention specialists, that's what we call them. They have to pass a series of pre-qualification tests to make sure that they're not somebody that has maybe attempted suicide in the last year, probably isn't going to be a good fit. Not forever, but maybe it's too soon. Maybe that's not a good fit,” said Gittins.
For more information on employment opportunities, call 406-268-1330 and speak to Jackie Gittins.