FirstLink Care and Support (formerly FirstLink Suicide Support Services)
- Program Representative Interviewed: Jennifer Illich, Director of Helpline Operations
- Location: Fargo, North Dakota
Program Overview: FirstLink
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.
Read more about the FirstLink Care and Support program in our Rural Health Models and Innovations section.