FirstLink 2021 Fall Newsletter

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November 2021

Introducing the FirstLink

DATA DASHBOARD Every day, FirstLink supports hundreds of users through the 2-1-1 Helpline and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The FirstLink Data Dashboard, which we recently added to our website, summarizes these contacts and the needs they’ve shared with FirstLink. The Dashboard contains three tabs: overview, crisis, and geographies. The overview tab displays the general needs for all contacts during 2021. The start and end date can be narrowed if an individual is curious about contacts made during a specific month. The tab can also be broken down by specific needs, from Mental Health and Addiction to Housing and Health Care. A drop-down menu lists the specific needs, along with a breakdown for each specific need. The geographies tab breaks down this data by counties and cities in North Dakota and Minnesota. It also indicates the total calls from the 2-1-1 Helpline in certain areas, along with the total contacts from our other phone lines. Finally, the crisis tab displays calls in which FirstLink helped to de-escalate the crisis and develop a safety

plan. Percentages can be adjusted to display how many crisis calls were stabilized by the end of the call and did not require further action, thus requiring fewer interventions by law enforcement. For example, from January through June of 2021, 94.2 percent of calls to FirstLink did not require law enforcement intervention.

This information is extremely valuable and insightful, and it is free to all viewers. The bottom of the screen features an orange cloud where anyone can download the information provided as a PDF for closer viewing. All of us here at FirstLink are very excited to share our reports with you! We would like to thank Benchmark Data Labs for helping us put together this wonderful dashboard.

A letter from Executive Director

JENNIFER ILLICH Dear Friends of FirstLink,

I am honored and excited to announce that I have moved into the Executive Director role at FirstLink! I initially joined the FirstLink team five years ago as the Director of Helpline Operations. In that time, the mission and vision of FirstLink has grown close to my heart. In my first five years with FirstLink, I have heard stories of sadness and despair turn into messages of hope for the future. I have seen agencies adopt suicide-safer policies for their staff and clients, and I have witnessed community-wide initiatives taking place.

Development and Family Science and my MBA from the University of Mary bring experience working with people in all stages of life and a business background to keep FirstLink moving forward. I have a lot of hopes and dreams for the future of FirstLink, with one of my main goals of living up to the ambition and aspiration that Cindy Miller worked towards for 15 years in this role. I want to thank our FirstLink board members, staff, vendors, stakeholders, and friends of FirstLink. We are all working together to help make this a suicide-safe community.

Thank you, As I move into my new role at FirstLink, I bring experience from my past positions with child protection, both as an NDSU Extension Agent and working in long-term care. My undergraduate degree from NDSU in Child

Care and Support


One of the most important ways you can support a loved one experiencing thoughts of suicide, substance use, or other behavioral health crisis is to simply let them know you are there. A simple text, voice message, or card in the mail can reduce the risk of suicide by as much as 20 percent. FirstLink’s Care and Support program fosters connection, reminding people they are not alone. Between calls, cards, and texts, FirstLink has reached out to people at risk 8,831 times since the beginning of this year. Although most of our referrals come from partnering clinics and hospitals, people can also get care and support by calling the helpline themselves. In fact, we’ve had 83 referrals from people who called 2-1-1 or the National Suicide Prevention helpline since January. Connection is an antidote to despair, and anyone can be there for someone at risk. You don’t need to be an expert; just knowing where to direct someone when they need extra help is enough. If you are concerned about someone and worried they won’t reach out for help, offer to call the helpline with them. Follow-up support is free, voluntary, and available to people of all ages. People at risk who are under the age of 13 need a guardian’s consent, but anyone can call for help and get connected to support and resources.

Jennifer Illich Jennifer Illich

Executive Director






14% of people in the United States experience the feeling of winter blues

Here to get you through the darkness of winter. It is no secret to the people of this area that winter can be a challenge for our mental health. 14 percent of people in the United States experience the feeling of winter blues which include feelings of low mood, lack of energy, and changes in appetite. While cold, dark winters are inevitable, there are self-care practices that we can incorporate into our routines to get us through the winter months. At FirstLink we are here to help you through all of winter’s challenges. People can call our Helpline by dialing 2-1-1 or 701-235-7335 24-hours a day to speak with a trained Call Specialist.

Stay Active. Being active during the colder months can take some creativity since being outside can be difficult to impossible in the winter. Some people find it helpful to be intentional about adding in small amounts of activity such as parking farther away, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or take an extra lap around the grocery store when doing your regular shopping. FirstLink can help connect you to resources that can support you in staying active. Many parks departments offer recreational opportunities that run through the winter months. We also list State Parks that may have opportunities such as hiking, snowshoeing, skiing or tubing.

Stay Social. Most people living in our area understand the urge to stay home on the couch under a warm blanket most of the winter. While this can be relaxing at times, social connections are important for our mental health. Take time to plan indoor activities with family and friends. This can include meeting a friend for coffee, playing games as a family, or

attending faith services. Volunteering has also been shown to improve mental health and can be a rewarding way to meet new people. FirstLink can help connect you to a variety of ways to meet new people including volunteer opportunities, hobby clubs, civic groups, faith communities, senior centers, and libraries.

Eat Well. For many people it is a challenge to fight off the desire to eat solely comfort food during the winter months. It is only natural that we crave these foods. However, their benefits are often temporary and can leave us feeling tired and low.

Explore Self-Care Strategies. Every person has different preferences for self-care activities. The lull in activity that usually comes during winter is a perfect opportunity to try something new. The options are endless but can include learning a new hobby or skill, journaling, meditation, attending local live performances, aromatherapy, taking a class through a community education program, light therapy, exploring a new musical genre, taking an exercise class, joining a bible study and the list goes on!

Seek Support. While the winter blues are common, unfortunately, so is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Six percent of U.S. adults experience SAD each year. The symptoms of SAD are similar to the winter blues but are more intense. Seek professional help if the “winter blues” are affecting your work, relationships, or ability to enjoy of life. A primary care physician can run tests to check for physical causes and can recommend supplements and/or medications. The FirstLink Helpline can connect you to mental health professionals including counseling and substance use services.

P.O. Box 447 Fargo, ND 58107-0447

Free, Online Suicide Prevention Training Available Thanks to a partnership with the NDSU Extension, supported by the ND Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Center Grant (USDA-NIFA), FirstLink can now offer free access to the online, self-paced Suicide Prevention program called LivingWorks Start. LivingWorks Start teaches trainees to recognize when someone is thinking about suicide and connect them to help and support. No matter what your role, this training prepares you to make a difference. This training can be completed in 60-90 minutes on a computer, tablet, or smartphone with an internet connection. The training is appropriate for anyone aged 16 and up, or 13 years old with parental or supervised guidance. Visit our website to register:

Visit our website to register:

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