A day before it was set to shut down, a statewide hot line for Minnesotans suffering from mental health crises has been rescued by the state Health Department.
In a last-minute move, the agency agreed late Thursday to provide enough funding, $139,000, to keep the crisis hot line open until late September. Canvas Health, the Oakdale-based nonprofit agency that operates the service, had previously announced the hot line would go dark on Friday, citing financial difficulties and a lack of state funding.
The planned closing of Crisis Connection concerned state health officials and mental health advocates, because the line is so widely used and remains the only mental health crisis line that serves the entire state. Last year, about 20,000 Minnesotans, including people struggling with severe depression and thoughts of suicide, called the hot line to receive immediate counseling and to be connected with community mental health services.
“With Minnesota facing historically high suicide rates and an opioid addiction epidemic, we were concerned about losing this lifesaving resource that serves tens of thousands of Minnesotans every year,” said Dr. Ed Ehlinger, state health commissioner. “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 state rescue also means that Crisis Connection will continue to handle calls from Minnesotans to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Without the new funds, calls from Minnesota would have been routed to a call center in another state, which could have resulted in longer wait times and reduced access to crisis services in Minnesota, state health officials said.
The Crisis Connection line was acquired by Canvas Health in 2010 and grew in importance amid a surge in demand for crisis counseling as well as an alarming rise in suicides. In 2015, the most recent year for which data are available, suicides in Minnesota reached the highest level since the state began tracking them in the early 1900s. The suicide rate has been trending upward nationally and in Minnesota since 2000, and is growing fastest among middle-aged men.
State health officials said they are in discussions with other state and federal agencies, as well as nonprofit agencies, about creating a long-term plan for a sustainable network of crisis mental health lines. Each county in Minnesota has its own 24-hour crisis hot line, which provides counseling and access to “crisis teams” of mental health professionals. Still, the network of county crisis lines can be difficult to navigate, and advocates say many Minnesotans are still not aware that crisis lines exist or which number to call for help.
The last-minute funding for Crisis Connection came from previously awarded suicide prevention funds from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The funding is expected to keep the crisis line open at least until Sept. 29, officials said.
Officials with Canvas Health did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Thursday.