A statewide mental health crisis hotline will stay open until late September, thanks to a last-minute assist from the Minnesota Department of Health. But the long-term future of the Crisis Connection remains uncertain.
The line, which failed to receive support from the 2017 Minnesota Legislature, was to shut down July 11. Canvas Health of Oakdale, which operates Crisis Connection, said the site lacked financing to continue. The $139,000 assist from state health officials will keep the call center operating for a time.
Crisis Connection is a widely used, statewide mental health crisis line. Each county in Minnesota has a 24-hour crisis hot line, which provides counseling and access to crisis teams of mental health professionals. But finding resources isn’t always easy, especially for people in crisis.
The statewide service is a branch of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The possibility of its closure has alarmed many mental health advocates.
MDH committed $139,000 of previously awarded federal suicide prevention funds from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to maintain the call center at least until September 29. The crisis line helps about 20,000 people per year.
“With Minnesota facing historically high suicide rates and an opioid addiction epidemic, we were concerned about losing this life-saving resource that serves tens of thousands of Minnesotans every year,” said Minnesota Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger. “This is not a permanent fix, but it will keep the suicide prevention line open for people in crisis and provide time to find a lasting solution.”
The MDH funds are coming from temporary program shifts and salary savings in the MDH suicide prevention unit. Without these funds, Minnesota’s calls would have been routed to another state accepting overflow calls, which could result in longer wait times and little access to Minnesota resources, if needed.
The Health Department is advising mental health providers and those in a crisis to call 1-800-273-8255 (TALK), which is the Minnesota National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
State health officials are in conversations with other state and federal agencies, as well as non-profit partners and other stakeholders about a long-term plan for ensuring an effective, user-friendly and sustainable network of crisis lines.
With increased demand for mental health services in rural areas, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture is also working to secure commitments for a dedicated hot line to serve ranchers and farmers.
What is now Crisis Connection has been in existence for almost 50 years, but has proven to be a financial challenge to operate. The nonprofit health services provider Canvas Health took over the line in 2010. Recent years have brought an increase in need for crisis counselling and a rise in suicides. State statistics included that in Minnesota, suicides have reached their highest level. That reflects national trends.
Minnesota recorded 726 suicides for 2015, up from 686 in the prior year. 2015 is the most recent year for which suicide statistics are available. State officials have said much of the increase in suicides is among while males ages 24 to 32.
When announcing the closing Canvas Health leadership said that while they were concerned about the impacts of closing Crisis Connection, it is the only option to providing its other services including mental health, substance abuse, mobile crisis and emergency social services. Crisis Connection has had losses of $100,000 to $300,000 per year in recent years but has been unable to get enough assistance from the state, counties and private therapists.