Carlton County officials hope texting could be key to suicide prevention in youthAt its Tuesday meeting this week, the Carlton County Board authorized Health and Human Services Director Dave Lee to apply for a three-year grant of up to $480,000 a year that would make it possible for residents to access suicide prevention support via text messaging.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
“i have a doctor, and anti-depressents turned on me so i got new ones, but im dying inside. my parents know, don’t worry. i need someone to text, not call…calling is too embarrassing. is there a free texting hotline for this? Thanks.”
This actual e-mail message was posted recently on a question-and-answer web site by a desperate young person who was reaching out for help – but couldn’t find it. That’s because few suicide prevention hotlines are accessible via text messaging. A proposed initiative of Carlton County Health and Human Services might just change all that.
At its Tuesday meeting this week, the Carlton County Board authorized Health and Human Services Director Dave Lee to apply for a three-year grant of up to $480,000 a year that would make it possible for residents to access suicide prevention support via text messaging.
In what they’re calling the “Next Txt 4 Life” program, Carlton County and the Minnesota Crisis Center in Richfield are partnering in innovative new programming that they hope will save lives – especially those of young
In recent years the Minnesota Department of Public Health has delved into ideas to expand the use of technology to better enable young people in responding to personal crises, but Lee said the state still falls woefully short of its goal to decrease the suicide rate among young people.
“Despite all of our efforts,” Lee said, “Carlton County, along with the rest of Northeastern Minnesota, still has a higher than average suicide rate.”
Lee went on to say that Carlton County has been more proactive than most, however, and when the state of Minnesota chose not to apply for federal grant money to target suicide prevention in middle- and high school-age children, Carlton County decided to go after it on its own.
“Every state has a crisis call center linked to the national Suicide Prevention Hotline,” said Lee, explaining that in Minnesota the center is located in Richfield.
Unfortunately, the number of young people availing themselves of that service has dropped dramatically in recent years, despite the fact the suicide rate in that population has grown alarmingly.
“We asked ourselves what we could do to take it to the next step,” said Lee.
He said they didn’t have far to look.
“Today’s young people have moved from calling or online chatting to texting,” he said. “The statistics are overwhelming – 10 to 1 – in support of the fact that today’s kids don’t call, they text.”
It only seemed logical, he said, that young people in crisis and possibly contemplating suicide would be more likely to reach out to qualified counselors if they were able to text – rather than call – a suicide prevention center.
“For one thing,” said Lee, “it’s a privacy issue. If a kid is in his or her bedroom and is in need of support, he or she is less likely to place a call for help, fearing that others in the household might overhear them. With texting, it’s fast, secure and private.”
Others simply have a hard time vocalizing the terrifying feelings they are experiencing, especially when speaking directly to an adult. Add to that the fact that young people who are deaf or hard of hearing have a more difficult time communicating via telephone in the first place, and the lines of communication are most definitely compromised when it comes to reaching out in times of crisis.
Lee said Minnesota’s Crisis Center does not currently have the capacity to receive or respond to text messages, although a handful of other states do.
“The state of Nevada has really helped pioneer the idea of having text messaging available as part of its crisis center,” Lee said. “They’ve gone from having basically no callers in the middle- and high school-age bracket to 10 percent in a very short time.”
With that in mind, Carlton County Health and Human Services decided to make a connection with the Minnesota Crisis Center to promote the idea of adding texting capacity as part of its services. Lee said the personnel at the center expressed interest in working with Carlton County to help make it happen. Together the two entities learned from administrators of the successful program in Nevada about the required setup and the vendors who could provide the type of equipment, software and training necessary.
Now the goal is to secure funding to pilot the program in Carlton County in order to train personnel in all of its schools and youth-serving agencies how to engage kids in crisis via texting. If successful, Lee said the next step would be to expand the initiative to the entire surrounding seven-county region of Northeast Minnesota.
“Beyond that, the state can do what it wants with it,” said Lee. “I just want to make sure that Carlton County kids get this.”
Grant money for suicide prevention efforts in the middle and high school age groups is available through United States Health and Human Services, and just last Friday, Carlton County received the official go-ahead from the state to apply for the money. If successful, the grant funding would cover the cost of expanding staffing at the state Crisis Center to handle the additional text message communications, as well as providing training, promotion, and limited health care services for low income young people who might require additional mental health support after making the initial contact.
The deadline for grant submission is Feb. 16, and Lee said the group is hoping to hear if their application is successful within a month or so.
“If we don’t get it this time,” he said, “we’re prepared to submit another application the next time around.
“We are missing the boat on so many fronts with our young people,” he added. “It’s becoming a public health issue nationally, and we just have to find ways to reach young people with services.”
In other business to come before the board, commissioners unanimously approved a request from Bruce Smith to operate a gravel pit on his property in Barnum Township, with five conditions attached. Under the conditions, Smith is required to follow the plans and specifications he submitted to the county; commence the excavation for the project within one year; undergo periodic reviews to assure compliance with the permit; and allow the county to enter the premises to verify compliance. The fifth condition involved a waiver of the 100-foot setback from the west property line, allowing Smith to excavate up to the property line.
Acting on the recommendation of the Carlton County Committee of the Whole, the board approved an agreement for the Carlton Fire Department to continue to provide fire and rescue service to the unorganized Sawyer Township. Some 16 residents of the township showed up at last week’s meeting of the Committee of the Whole to support the choice of the Carlton Fire Department over a proposal submitted by the Cloquet Area Fire District. A handful of those residents were in attendance at this week’s meeting to witness the final vote.
“It does make a difference when people show up at meetings,” commented Commissioner Ted Pihlman following the vote.
Dan Belden of Esko was elected to a second term on the Governor’s Council on Minnesota’s Coastal Program Board, which oversees the Lake Superior coastal resources by administering grant funding and making recommendations to the Minnesota Commissioner of Natural Resources.
Terry Anderson of Cloquet was reappointed to the Arrowhead Library Board for a three-year term beginning July 1, 2011. Last year Anderson stepped in to complete the unexpired term of the late Carol Hauck, which runs through June 2011. He recently indicated a willingness to stay on for an additional term after that.
The board endorsed a plan to map designated forest roads in the county in a manner similar to the one used by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for prescriptive easements. Land Commissioner Greg Bernu explained that the plan will guarantee public access to tax-forfeited forest lands in the county for perpetuity.
Commissioners authorized County Auditor Paul Gassert to serve as the fiscal agent for the Kettle River Snowmobile Club’s capital improvement grant application. According to Gassert, the club is seeking grant funding to undergo the rehabilitation of two bridges on its existing trails.
A modification to the Carlton County Tourism Grant Program was proposed by County Economic Development Director Pat Oman, expanding the guidelines for the program to include marketing initiatives for purposes other than just events. The board unanimously approved the change.