Suicide hotline shutdown reflects state’s indifference toward mental illness

Little has so defined the dysfunction of a state government with a budget surplus and its citizens’ indifference toward people with a mental health crisis, than Minnesota’s refusal to fund a suicide hotline that’s been operating for nearly 50 years. But the Minnesota Legislature didn’t come up with any money, neither did any area foundations, and the stateline hotline will shut down on Friday. A national hotline will continue to be available, and so will some county-operated hotlines.

The hotline loses up to $300,000 a year, or about half of the amount the state’s taxpayers just spent bailing out a resort owner on Lake Mille Lacs.

It’s not a big deal until you feel like killing yourself.

Leslie Martin, of Mendota Heights, did one day when she thought the world would be better off without her.

Suddenly, the message she’d heard for years on her therapist’s voicemail — “if this is an emergency, hang up and call Crisis Connection” — took root.

She called, she writes in an op-ed in today’s Star Tribune.

She took things one step at a time, asking all the right questions. For instance, did I need a first responder? After listening for some time, she kept me on the phone while she notified my husband that I was in crisis. She encouraged me to go back inside the building. When I refused, she contacted the clinic’s patient services manager, who met me at my car and accompanied me to a sunny patch of grass, where we talked the whole thing out. She listened, showed compassion and guaranteed that I would have the MRI the next morning, followed immediately by an appointment with the physician who had ordered the test.

Now that the hotline is shutting down, she says she wonders how many other lives won’t be saved.

That sets her apart from almost everyone else in a state where walleye in Mille Lacs, beer sales on Sunday, and money for sports arenas can get people worked up enough to demand action.

Mental health and suicide is someone else’s problem.

Background: Funding in jeopardy for state’s suicide prevention phone line (MinnPost)

The National Suicide Hotline is: 1-800-273-8255