Help the Helpers

By Carl Atiya Swanson

“Gonna forget about myself for a while, gonna go out and see what others need.” That line from Bob Dylan’s “Thunder on the Mountain” rolls around in my head a lot, as a reminder sometimes the best way to help yourself is to help someone else. There have been innumerable studies showing the positive effects of helping others, and if you’re a 12-stepper or have been in a recovery program, you know that service to others plays a key role in the journey into wellness.

That was why, three years after getting sober, I decided to go through the Crisis Connection volunteer training. Crisis Connection is the 24-hour phone line & text service responding to people in crisis. It handles all the Minnesota calls for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. It’s a place for people who feel they have nowhere to turn to find someone willing to sit with them in their pain, listen, and help them plan to stay safe, stay alive. It is a quiet, irreplaceable service that catches us when we fall. And it almost just went away

The volunteer training at Crisis Connection was incredibly in-depth. Over 2 months, I learned about grief, loss, addiction, mandated reporting, and more. The nurses and clinicians who led the trainings were invariably kind, dedicated and funny people, because you have to have a sense of humor to stick it out in this kind of work. I learned listening skills, how to talk to people to find out if they were safe, how to make plans to keep people safe - skills that I use to this day.

I only made it through a few shifts. I was still pretty new in recovery, and the intensity of the calls shocked me. Biking home at 2 in the morning after a particularly long call, I threw in the towel. I still had work to do on myself; you can only forget about that for a while, like Dylan says. But it’s one of the first resources I offer to people, because I know how powerful it can be.

Crisis Connection almost shut down last month because of a budget shortfall at Canvas Health, which operates the service. We can’t let a resource like this lapse for lack of a relatively little amount of funding. The Minnesota Department of Health stepped in with funding to keep Crisis Connection in operation until late September, but we know that the need for connection and safety nets carries on, especially into the winter months. So we need Crisis Connection to stay, and stay strong.

If you have stories about Crisis Connection, or if you wish you had known about Crisis Connection when it mattered to you or your loved ones, make that known. Share comments below, or send us a note at that we can share with Canvas Health. Tell the Minnesota Department of Health that this is an effort worth funding. Tell Governor Dayton, tell your elected officials, share your story with the folks running for governor in 2018, and ask them to make mental health services a priority in our state.

We also hope to see you at the Stomp Out Suicide 5k on August 19. Funds raised will support Canvas Health's mental health, substance use, and crisis services. 

And, if you are in crisis, call (612) 379-6363, or text “Life” to 61222 to reach Crisis Connection. Talk to them, and stick around. We need you here.