FirstLink Care and Support (formerly FirstLink Suicide Support Services)
Program Representative Interviewed: Jennifer Illich, Director of Helpline Operations
Location: Fargo, North Dakota
Care and Support, based out of Fargo, North Dakota, serves the state of North Dakota and parts of
western Minnesota. Its service area includes many rural communities. FirstLink offers several programs
and services designed to prevent suicide, including community education and outreach, suicide prevention
training for professionals and organizations, and evidence-based training programs.
At the core of its work on suicide prevention, FirstLink answers the 24-hour suicide prevention talk line
for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) for the state of North Dakota
and parts of Minnesota. The talk line connects callers with trained call specialists with expertise in
crisis intervention and follows up with callers within 24 hours of their first call and for several months
thereafter. During these calls, the call specialist offers extra support and checks in with the individual
about how things are going in their lives. Individuals may self-refer to the program, or they may be
referred from hospitals, clinics, emergency rooms, or other healthcare and community organizations. Upon
entry into the follow-up program, the call specialist sends a hand-written note or caring contact in the
mail to let the caller know they are thinking of them and to offer additional contact information. Texting
services are also available.
The suicide prevention follow-up services have been in place since 2012. FirstLink has made more than 8,000
calls on average in any given year. For individuals in rural areas, the service helps fill an important gap
in availability of and wait times for mental health services. Call specialists are also well-trained to know
when to involve first responders if they cannot ensure an individual's safety. FirstLink's services are
funded by a variety of grants and state funds and are a free service to community members.