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Region's crisis help unhindered: Northland unaffected by funding loss for statewide hotline

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number will still be answered after the Minnesota crisis hotline has shut down.

The pending shutdown of a Minnesota crisis hotline doesn't mean help won't be available, experts in the field say.

"We used them for a short time, but we weren't using them anymore," said Linda Curran of a statewide "Crisis Connection" offered by Canvas Health, a nonprofit mental health agency based in Oakdale, Minn.

The Arrowhead region has its own crisis response network unaffected by expired funding that threatens the statewide hotline, said Curran, the adult mental health supervisor for St. Louis County.

In a news release and a blog published earlier this week, Canvas Health reported it would close its crisis hotline as of June 30. It was necessary, according to the agency, because funding that would have been provided as part of the state's supplemental budget bill was lost when Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed the bill.

Dayton said the bill passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature didn't provide enough money for schools, among other things.

The timing of news about a crisis hotline shutting down looks awkward. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported this week that the rate of suicide in Minnesota increased by 40.6 percent from 1999-2016. That was the eighth-highest increase of all states. (Wisconsin about matched the national rate at 25.8 percent.)

Moreover, two high-profile suicides during the past week — taking the lives of fashion designer Kate Spade and of CNN personality Anthony Bourdain — called further attention to the issue.

Celebrity suicides can prompt others to take their own lives, said Sue Abderholden, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Minnesota. That's especially true if the means of suicide are reported.

"Saying exactly how they did it actually promotes contagion," Abderholden said.

Statewide, the loss of the crisis line will be a blow, Abderholden said, particularly in smaller counties that may have relied on it instead of having their own 24/7 crisis line.

But, like Curran, Abderholden emphasized that there still will be people to call.

"The national suicide hotline, the 1-800-273-8255 number, will continue to be answered, just not by a call center in Minnesota," Abderholden said. "People will still be able to connect with someone."

In Northeastern Minnesota, there already are numbers to call, Curran said. (See a list of numbers accompanying this story.) That's not changed by what happens to the state line.

Calls in Duluth and southern St. Louis County are answered at the Birch Tree Center, Curran said. Calls in northern St. Louis County are answered at the Wellstone Center in Eveleth.

The crisis text line, which for Minnesota started in Carlton County in 2011, finally reached the entire state this past April. It, too, is unaffected by the lack of funding for the "Crisis Connection" line.

In St. Louis County, officials also are exploring ways to help those who call 911 with a mental health crisis, Curran said. Under a proposal, dispatchers would ask callers in crisis if they'd like a visit from the mental health crisis team, she said.

"It doesn't happen yet," Curran said. "We've just started those conversations."

To get help

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

• (800) 273-8255

Crisis Text Line

• Text MN to 741741

South St. Louis, Lake, Cook & Carlton counties/Fond du Lac Band

• (218) 623-1800 or (844) 772-4742

North St. Louis County/Bois Forte Band

• (218) 288-2100

Itasca County

• (218) 326-8565 or 211*

Koochiching County

• (800) 442-8565 or 211*

* St. Louis County 211 services are not crisis-related