Mental health support bolstered by suicide review panel, crisis line funding in North Dakota

Lawmakers approved a $1.86 million appropriation for the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline and establishment of a suicide review commission, aimed at preventing suicides.

North Dakota Legislature
The North Dakota Capitol in Bismarck. Photo illustration by Troy Becker

Editor’s note: If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.

BISMARCK — North Dakota legislators passed several bills aimed at boosting mental health support and suicide prevention before adjourning their session last weekend.

A $1.86 million appropriation for the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline passed Saturday, April 29, before the Legislature adjourned early Sunday.

The effort began as Senate Bill 2149 and would have levied a monthly 30-cent tax on all cellphone lines and landlines to fund the crisis line.

Bill sponsor Sen. Kathy Hogan, D-Fargo, said, “People are dying by suicide partially because we do not have an adequate crisis response system.”


North Dakota Rep. Karla Rose Hanson, D-Fargo.
North Dakota Rep. Karla Rose Hanson, D-Fargo.

The bill went through several iterations before ultimately being added to Senate Bill 2012, the state Health and Human Services budget bill, said Rep. Karla Rose Hanson, D-Fargo.

The funding is expected to be made available in July.

Another bill to establish a suicide fatality review commission, sponsored by Hanson, passed a few weeks prior and was signed by Gov. Doug Burgum.

House Bill 1390 sets up the statewide panel to review suicides in order to better understand how they can be prevented.

The panel will be made up of members including mental health professionals, a county coroner, state forensic examiner, crisis line representatives, schools, veterans' organizations, the faith community, law enforcement and tribal nations.

The legislation comes at a time when suicides are at an all-time high in North Dakota.

At least 169 North Dakota residents are known to have died by suicide last year, according to a provisional state report , the highest number since the Department of Health and Human Services established the database in 1972.

Cass County Coroner Kriste Ross said the Cass-Clay Suicide Prevention Coalition reviews suicides locally, but there has been no such state panel.


Factors to look at could include changes in a person’s medication, bullying, gender identity and financial situation prior to suicide, Ross said in March. The commission's focus would be on systems and processes, not on performance of certain individuals.

Beginning in August, the state Health and Human Services Commissioner, a position held by Chris Jones, may appoint members to the suicide review commission.

The presiding officer could request health care records pertaining to a suicide, and the commission may access relevant autopsy, police, school and protective services records as needed, the bill stated.

All records of the commission would be confidential except for annual reports.

The commission would compile an annual report of its findings and recommendations and post it on the DHHS website.

Hanson said other mental health-related legislation that passed included boosts in school behavioral health grants and funding for two new behavioral health facilities in western North Dakota, where there aren't enough of those services.

Huebner is a 35+ year veteran of broadcast and print journalism in Fargo-Moorhead.
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