Suicide the 10th leading cause of death

“I was at the height of my substance abuse disorder, divorce, and custody battle when I attempted suicide. I was referred to the FirstLink Follow-Up Program when I was discharged from the inpatient floor. I didn’t know what to expect but when they first started contacting me I was mostly angry and yelled for a majority of the calls. For some reason they kept calling to check-in with me, it made me feel like they cared, and were just trying to help. My mood gradually improved the more that FirstLink called. Through the Follow-Up Program, I was able to get connected to the resources in my community that I needed. Without them, I wouldn’t have gotten linked to AA meetings and counseling in my area.”
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and the 9th overall cause of death in the state of North Dakota. The story from the individual above is not uncommon throughout our communities. In North Dakota, on average one person dies by suicide every 71 hours. So what kind of help is out there to combat suicide and support those who are struggling with mental health disorders?
FirstLink is a nonprofit that provides 24 hour helpline services to the state of North Dakota and areas of Minnesota. In collaboration with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the North Dakota Department of Health, FirstLink has been able to offer a Suicide Follow-Up Program since 2012. Although the primary goals of the program remain the same, it has grown tremendously since it was first created, receiving both internal and external referrals. When an individual reaches FirstLink via the 2-1- 1 Helpline or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL) the call specialist can offer the follow-up program to the individual if they are experiencing suicidal thoughts or behaviors. All other referrals come from one of the currently 30 partnered facilities across the state of North Dakota. They can be from a smaller clinic, an emergency department, a psychiatry floor, or another inpatient unit. These individuals are referred to the FirstLink Follow-Up Program via fax on the day of their discharge.
Research has shown that the risk for suicide increases during the first 24-48 hours of a patient being discharged. One of FirstLink’s program responsibilities is to attempt contact with the individual within 24 hours of receiving their referral. FirstLink will attempt to reach an individual five times before their file is closed and a letter is sent. Other roles and responsibilities of FirstLink’s Follow-Up Team include but are not limited to, encouraging appropriate resources and self-care techniques, treatment promotion, listening and support, developing crisis management and safety plans, completing risk assessments, and when necessary de-escalating crises. These roles and responsibilities are very important because they assist the Follow-Up Team in upholding the goals and mission of the program.
“First and foremost, we have a responsibility to the participants of the program to be there and call them when we say we’re going to” stated Jacki Olson, the Coordinator of the program. “We always make sure to tell the participants that if they ever need to talk before their next scheduled call or need additional resources in their area to call us. We’re available 24/7.”


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