Other’s opinion: Suicide call centers’ opening is timely

Published 6:30 am Wednesday, February 17, 2021

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The Free Press

First and foremost, you should know that feeling somewhat gloomy right now is perfectly understandable. The continuing pandemic, daily struggles and a long stretch of bitter cold weather can add up to a bit of mental health meltdown.

But also know that if the weight is getting too heavy and seems more like mayhem than minor meltdown, help is available. Luckily, that assistance is now faster and more focused on Minnesotans’ specific needs with the opening of four new suicide prevention call centers in the state.

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The centers are part of a network belonging to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Callers to the lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) are routed to a center near them based on their phone number so they can deal with a counselor in touch with local resources. Family and friends concerned about loved ones’ mental health also are encouraged to call the number.

As of last week, the state opened the new call centers to better serve Minnesotans. The new centers are a result of $1.2 million in funding allocated to the program by the 2019 state Legislature. The state hasn’t had a locally based National Suicide Prevention Lifeline call center since spring 2018, when it shut down because of lack of funding. It’s good timing that the program has returned.

Such assistance was in high demand before the pandemic slammed us. In Greater Minnesota where many farmers are struggling, the shortage of help was noticeable — and sometimes deadly. Farmers are among the most likely to die by suicide, compared with other occupations, according to a January 2020 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made the help even more important. Deacon Tim Dolan, of the New Um Diocese and a former Extension educator, has for years counseled farm families in distress. He told The Free Press last fall that in the first months of the pandemic, his services were sought out and he probably talked to three to five families a day.

For many people, the pandemic is exacerbating much of the previously existing stress and adding another layer on top of it. Mental health deserves our attention. The Lifeline is free, confidential and available 24/7. It is a first step to getting people the help they need.