By Ralph Nieder-Westermann
Waller Hall Research leadership has long held a deep commitment to suicide prevention, a passion that led the company to launch the Wyoming LifeLine, a suicide prevention crisis line on August 12, 2020, after years of work and preparation.
Over the past year the Wyoming LifeLine has grown to support every county in the state and expanded coverage hours. We wouldn't have been able to do this without the help and support of those who have worked tirelessly for years to help establish a Wyoming-based crisis hotline. Our first year of operating the Wyoming LifeLine has been a remarkable journey.
Filling a need, growing in impact
Wyoming has always ranked as one of the top three states with the highest mortality rate due to death by suicide in the nation, and until 2020 did not have a state-based crisis hotline. Previously, calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800 number were routed to one of the out-of-state, major call centers within the network. No crisis lines were previously staffed by and for Wyoming residents. While these centers all had well trained staff, they did not have the local knowledge or resources that come with in-state crisis centers.
The largest town, Cheyenne, has a population of only 65,132 based on the 2020 US Census. The entire state has a population of only 576,851 (2020 US Census data), spread across 97,818 square miles, making Wyoming the least populous and least densely populated state in the contiguous United States.
The modern Western culture of self-reliance, which helps people thrive in a landscape that’s big and tough, only adds to the physical distances between people in the state. Under the surface one can find that many struggle with a sense of overwhelming isolation, both physical and psychological. The “I can do this on my own” mentality creates a situation where people who need help often may not seek it out. The role of a crisis line worker is to triage a situation and provide the caller with the most appropriate resources, not to provide direct mental health counseling.
To meet this need for a local crisis center, the Wyoming LifeLine (WYLL) was formed. Originally planned to work out of the Waller Hall Research (WHR) office building in Greybull, we had to adapt to a virtual environment due to the COVID-19 pandemic as did the rest of our company operations.
Opening a new crisis center during a pandemic was not in our original plans, yet looking back over the past year, we achieved a lot, especially since we are currently funding the operations primarily through support from both WHR and our parent company The Henne Group (THG), as well as through donations from The Foundation for the Episcopal Diocese of Wyoming, Green River Valley Health Foundation, and family and friends who care about this issue.
Here are some of the key highlights of our first year of operations:
- June 2020 – WYLL formalized a relationship with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- July 2020 – 60-hour staff training program developed by suicide prevention specialist with regional expertise and our website launch: www.wyominglifeline.org
- August 12, 2020 – Phone lines live, launched with four-county coverage, 25 hours/week (two trained operators and one supervisor)
- October 29, 2020 – WYLL operating with full statewide coverage across all 23 counties
- March 11, 2021 – Hours expanded to 55 hours/week coverage
- May-June 2021 – Grants received from Green River Valley Health Foundation and the The Foundation for the Episcopal Diocese of Wyoming.
Resources and outreach
As part of launching a crisis hotline, we needed to have a resource list that our crisis line staff could turn to when on the phone with someone with suicidal ideation. We quickly found out that while there were local lists available in some parts of the state, there was no statewide list of resources that people in need could access. Therefore, it was up to our staff to develop such a list. They reached out to various types of organizations, support groups, and mental health professionals across the 23 counties in Wyoming to develop a home-grown list.
Each resource was contacted and asked if they would be willing to be part of our resource guide. If they agreed, they were added to our growing list. To our knowledge this was the first resource guide of its kind for our state. Through relationship building, many people and groups came together to support this guide.
Outreach and education were also important to us from the beginning. Traveling the state to conduct in-person outreach and education was not possible due to the pandemic. Despite these challenges we:
Governance and funding
The WYLL brought together a 10-member advisory board of suicide prevention specialists, mental health professionals, along with religious and civic leaders to provide the knowledge and expertise in suicide prevention to guide our development while meeting the needs of people in Wyoming.
The WYLL has not received any state funding and relies completely on in-kind donations from donors and our parent company.
How to help
All donations are invaluable, whether it's monthly or one time only, all amounts go to sustaining the LifeLine saving lives. You can donate through various platforms including: Go Fund Me, PayPal, or writing a check. Wyoming LifeLine is a non-profit, under the fiscal sponsorship of Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs (SEE). As a SEE project, donations to the Wyoming LifeLine are tax deductible and will appear on a donor’s credit card statement as a donation to SEE.
Continued financial support is needed to help meet the National mandates for the upcoming single nationwide 3-digit number (988) that replaces the current 800 number for all states. This exciting update to the simplified number will begin July 2022.