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ND Suicide Prevention Hotline Providing Vital Service

Suicide-related calls to North Dakota's FirstLink hotline increased by 4,000 calls between 2016 and 2017. (Eli Christman/Flickr)
Suicide-related calls to North Dakota's FirstLink hotline increased by 4,000 calls between 2016 and 2017. (Eli Christman/Flickr)
November 21, 2018

FARGO, N.D. – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says North Dakota has seen a disturbing spike in its suicide rate over the past two decades.

FirstLink maintains the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in North Dakota and has been on the front lines of helping people in need.

The nonprofit group has seen numbers for suicide-related calls increase dramatically in recent years, from about 2,500 in 2016 to more than 6,500 in 2017.

But Cindy Miller, FirstLink’s executive director, says fortunately her service only had to dispatch law enforcement on 45 occasions last year. She says it's amazing how much of a difference listening can make.

"Our area law enforcement have been doing a great job with that, referring people when they're at lower risk of suicide to be able to call us – just so that someone can talk to them and they can listen to them, make a safe plan and make sure they're going to be OK," she relates.

Last month, Farmers Union Insurance made a $20,000 donation to FirstLink. Farmers and ranchers have been under growing stress, and suicide has become a bigger issue for these communities.

FirstLink also has a 24-hour follow-up program for people who recently have been discharged from a hospital or public health facility.

Follow-up calls have been on the rise as well, increasing from 1,150 in 2016 to more than 4,800 in 2017.

Miller says those numbers are on track to double this year. She says suicide prevention hotlines and other mental health services provide a great resource, but she also hopes people can begin to talk about this issue in their lives.

"It's OK to say, 'I know right now you're going through maybe a loss of a loved one or a loss of job or loss of crop or things that you're struggling with,’” she says. “’Sometimes when people go through those sort of things, they think of suicide. Are you thinking of it?' And it's amazing how much relief there is to someone."

FirstLink provides 24-hour crisis intervention and can also direct people to services such as food assistance, support groups and emergency safe shelters.

FirstLink’s number is 211. Folks can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline through the 211 number or at 1-800-273-TALK.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ND