Editorial Roundup: Troubling trends require stable funding for line

Published 8:50 pm Tuesday, March 14, 2023

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There’s good news and bad news about the new 988 suicide prevention, mental health emergency line: The good news is that the new line is serving hundreds of thousands more people with mental illness. The bad news is that needs are outpacing the funding and the staffing of the line.
proposal at the Minnesota Legislature calls for assessing a fee of 12 cents to 25 cents per month on all phone lines to help create a stable funding base for the assistance line. It’s similar to how 911 emergency service is funded. A 40-group coalition is calling for the funding through the phone line fee in a bill sponsored by Rep. Jessica Hanson, DFL-Burnsville. The fee would provide about $10 million a year to fund the service.

The new 988 suicide prevention line has also become a mental health counseling line. That’s a positive development as it shows people are reaching out for help before they get to the stage of thinking about suicide. But it also shows many cannot see mental health counselors in their own community.

The calls are up 30% and texts to the line are up 500% since it began last July, according to a report in the Star Tribune. There are improvements in wait times and sending callers to the right state call centers, but there remain challenges with the huge increase in people who are calling. The average response time to hear from a counselor is 11 seconds, down from several minutes with the previous service.

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And the service appears to be appealing to young people because they can text instead of call. But that’s where the staffing shortages come. Minnesota’s four call centers are short staffed and that makes responding to texts difficult. Text messages are referred to other states who may not know things like Minnesota has 87 mobile crisis units that can be deployed to make home visits.

While the rates of in-state response to Minnesota callers has gone from 43% to 87%, the standard is 90%. In fact, the new line has been promoted as a more complete mental health support line and 80% of calls are for emotional support while 11% are regarding suicide. The call centers also would like to make more follow up calls. A 2018 study shows 80% of callers can be saved from suicide with follow up calls.

The new funding is needed because federal grants set up to staff 200 call centers across the country will dry up in 2 years. Four states already have the per phone line fee.

We urge the Legislature to take quick and decisive action to fund these call centers that are working to prevent suicides and provide needs for those with mental illness.

Lives depend on it.

— Mankato Free Press, March 10

About Editorial Roundup

Editorials from newspapers around the state of Minnesota.

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