With the help of state funding, a team in Casper is working to launch the first suicide prevention hotline based in Wyoming, the state with the second-highest suicide rate in the nation.

Wyoming is currently the only state without a local branch of the national hotline, but that could change as soon as early August. That's when the Central Wyoming Counseling Center Suicide Prevention Lifeline is tentatively set to launch, though the timeline could change as organizers continue to arrange the new resource.

Organizers are not yet releasing the hotline number because the structure to field calls and help those seeking it isn't up and running. Until they officially launch the new lifeline, anyone experiencing a crisis should call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Bernice Hazucha will run the call center and have two people working alongside her. She is in the process of hiring those two employees, with a second round of interviews set for the second week of July.

The new service will operate Sunday through Thursday from 3 p.m. to 12 a.m. daily. The $200,000 in annual state funding is enough to support a single shift on the hotline at the moment; the hours of operation were arrived at based upon the peak hours of need demonstrated by national hotline statistics and organizers' ability to establish a consistent staffing pattern.

Hazucha arrived in Wyoming in September 2018 and has been working in the behavioral health field for twenty years. Previously, she worked in Duchess County, New York, answering a crisis hotline there as part of the national prevention network.

"For me, it was very rewarding," Hazucha told K2 Radio News in a phone interview Wednesday.

In her career, she worked with nine people who ended up taking their own lives. But in the several months after arriving in Wyoming, Hazucha saw 13 completed suicides.

She and her husband of five and a half years, Kevin -- the CEO of Central Wyoming Counseling Center -- have been working to bring a local prevention hotline to the Cowboy State. Now, with the support of Governor Mark Gordon and the Wyoming Department of Health, their work is set to come to fruition before the end of the summer.

"Without their support, this would not have happened," Kevin Hazucha said Wednesday. He has worked in the field for over 35 years, saying, "It's been my mission and my career."

He credits Dr. Louis Roussalis, board president at CWCC, for championing the local hotline effort.

It's crucial that Wyoming have such a resource, the Hazuchas explained, because otherwise someone experiencing a crisis who called for support would end up speaking to someone who doesn't share the experience of Wyomingites and is not as well-versed in the resources available here.

Additionally, Bernice Hazucha is bilingual, and her ability to speak Spanish offers another benefit to Wyoming residents.

Longer-term, their goal is to operate the lifeline all day, every day.

"I would love to have more staff because the more staff we have, the more lives we save," Bernice Hazucha said.

Hotline staff will work closely with local and state law enforcement and behavioral health professionals in order to provide the best, most comprehensive support possible to anyone who reaches out. The lifeline is not only available to those considering taking their own lives, but also to anyone dealing with trauma or other issues.

For example, it would be a good resource for someone who is homebound or experiencing the anxiety disorder agoraphobia, the Hazuchas said.

The call center will also work closely with the Wyoming Association of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Centers. Known as WAMHSAC, the group includes 20 centers statewide providing mental health and substance abuse treatment and prevention. The working relationship will allow the lifeline to better connect anyone experiencing a crisis with the best people and resources for them and their unique situation.

The Hazuchas emphasize that anyone having thoughts of suicide should not be fearful of discussing those thoughts with their family and friends. Being open to such conversations can help break down the stigmatization of such issues and lead to better outcomes for individuals and the community.

"We have sort of a 'frontier mentality' that you take care of your own problems and such," Kevin Hazucha told K2 Radio News. When it comes to mental health issues, though, that sort of approach is often detrimental and unlikely to lead to a positive result.

The Crisis Stabilization Center at CWCC is always open for anyone who needs help. The center can be reached at 307-337-8842.

Anyone experiencing an acute crisis, or anyone who knows of someone in danger, should call 911.

For further information about the CWCC Suicide Prevention Lifeline, contact Bernice Hazucha at 307-439-9219.

Again, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available at 1-800-273-8255.

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