Funds in Question to Preserve the Life-Saving Telephone Crisis Counseling Line in Minnesota

When crisis counselors answer calls at Canvas Health’s Richfield-based crisis call center, they never know who may be on the other line. A caller could be struggling with the loss of a loved one, a difficult breakup, and they may even be seriously contemplating suicide.

A call came in recently where the caller was clearly in danger of hurting themselves. The trained counselor talked to the caller about what was going on while a supervisor listened to the conversation and used instant messaging to supply advice, tips, and resources to the counselor for the caller’s benefit.

“I’m not here to help you die,” the counselor told the caller. “I’m here to help you live.”

It became clear that the person needed additional mental healthcare right away. While a supervisor called the local mobile crisis team, the counselor kept the caller on the line and talked about the weather, plans for the weekend, and favorite music —all with the goal of keeping the caller occupied and the connection between them strong until the mobile crisis team could arrive.

During the 45-minute call, mobile crisis staff reached the caller’s location, and the counselor transferred the person safely to the team, said goodbye, and was confident that the person was safe, and the immediate crisis was over.

“None of this is easy,” says Daniel Mrotek, a Crisis Connection supervisor at Canvas Health, “but it’s needed.”

There’s something about hearing a live human voice that’s comforting when you feel alone and out of options.
Counselors at Canvas Health, a non-profit community mental health agency, answer more than 35,000 calls and 11,000 texts from individuals in similar situations each year. This month, legislators will decide the fate of funding to support the continued operation of the telephone crisis counseling program and to expand access to the state’s text counseling program, both of which cast lifelines of hope to thousands of Minnesotans each year.

A common misperception is that the State already pays the estimated $1.3 million to operate the 50-year-old telephone crisis counseling service. Actually funding is cobbled together utilizing a few contracts and fundraising. Even those efforts haven’t been enough. The service regularly experiences a loss of as much as $300,000 per year, which has become unsustainable. Unless funds are appropriated this Session by the Legislature, the program will be drastically reduced, leaving an estimated 50,000 individuals per year to find other services for help. Those individuals may end up being directed to the already overburdened 911 departments, hospital emergency departments, and mobile crisis teams.

Offered free-of-charge to people in Minnesota, confidential calls and texts to the crisis center are often the first step for people who need to access mental healthcare service. This service also offers a stabilizing influence for people who have serious and persistent mental illness who may be overwhelmed, or feeling unbalanced on their medications. And finally, crisis counseling provides hope, resources, and the ability to immediately dispatch emergency care to people who may be considering suicide.

If the telephone service is downsized, a person could still receive crisis counseling by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number, but these calls will no longer be routed to an organization based in Minnesota and familiar with the resources available within the state. Instead, they would likely be routed to a call center in another state – one unfamiliar with resources available in the state. A lack of timely, appropriate care can mean the difference between life and death for a vulnerable person in crisis, especially if they are contemplating suicide.

To express your concern, you may call your elected official or call members of the conference committee.  Those members are:  Senators Benson; Abeler; Lourey; Housley; and Utke and Representatives Dean, M.; Schomacker; Albright; Kiel; and Schultz.  Access a directory here: https://www.leg.state.mn.us/leg/legdir

The mission of Canvas Health is to bring hope, healing, and recovery to the lives of people we serve. Canvas Health provides services to people struggling with mental illness, substance use, crisis, unstable housing, and trauma. As a nonprofit community mental health agency, Canvas Health offers over 35 programs at seven metro clinics, as well as a statewide phone and text crisis line. The agency acts as a safety net provider, serving those with complex needs who may not otherwise be able to afford care. Programs include crisis, psychiatry, counseling, chemical health, and social service programs. For more information, visit www.CanvasHealth.org.

Media inquiries: Julia Yach, jyach@canvashealth.org; (651) 275-4311.