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FirstLink Care Contacts (formerly FirstLink Suicide Support Services)

  • Program Representative Interviewed: now Jennifer Illich, Director of Helpline Operations
  • Location: Fargo, North Dakota
  • Program Overview: FirstLink Care Contacts is based out of Fargo, North Dakota, but serves the entire state, as well as parts of western Minnesota, with much of its service area being rural. FirstLink offers several programs and services designed to prevent suicide, including community education and outreach, suicide prevention training for professionals and organizations, and a variety of evidence-based training programs, including Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training, Mental Health First Aid, and Suicide Risk Assessment Trainings.

    At the core of its work on suicide prevention, however, FirstLink offers a 24-hour suicide hotline, called the "Suicide Lifeline" (1-800-273-TALK). The hotline connects callers with trained call specialists with expertise in crisis intervention. FirstLink also has a follow-up program, through which call specialists follow up with individuals within 24 hours of their first call to the hotline and for a couple of months after. On 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 also sends a hand-written note in the mail to let the individual know they are being thought of and to offer additional contact information. Texting services are available, if individuals prefer that to talking over the phone.

    The suicide follow-up services have been in place since 2012 and more than 8,000 outgoing calls were made to individuals in 2018 alone. For individuals in rural areas, in particular, the service helps to fill an important gap if people live far from 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 from the state, and are offered free of charge to community members.

Read about FirstLink Caring Contacts in RHIhub's Rural Health Models and Innovations.

Models represented by this program: