In its first week of operation, New Jersey's first suicide hotline call center handled approximately 300 calls.

University Behavioral HealthCare at UMDNJ features New Jersey's first suicide hotline call center. (Townsquare Media)

New Jersey Department of Human Services (DHS) Commissioner Jennifer Velez toured the center today; it launched May 1 and is operated by University Behavioral HealthCare at the University of Medicine and Dentistry.

“It’s important for residents who are feeling alone, desperate or in distress to have a safe outlet, someone who they can connect with and who can provide professional counsel,” Commissioner Velez said.

The hotline is handled 24 hours a day, seven days a week by New Jersey-based volunteer counselors at NJHOPELINE (855-654-6735).

"I think that the work that we're doing is very important for everyone in the state," said Irena Guberman of North Plainfield, a call taker at the center. "Our goal is to help them in whatever way we can and get them to a safe place."

Potentially-suicidal New Jerseyans have had someone to talk to in the past, but the counselors were handled by a national helpline that occasionally bounced calls out of state.

According to a DHS press release, suicide ranks as a leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 24 - third to accidents and homicides. New Jersey's suicide rate for adults ages 35 to 64 is among the lowest in the nation, but it spiked more than 30 percent from 1999 to 2010.

The call center was funded by a DHS grant worth $648,981.