Idaho group unveils state suicide prevention plan

1 Nov

by Jamie Hale

The suicide rate in Idaho has consistently been above the national average, and has even ranked among the worst in the nation, but a group of Idahoans is taking charge and trying to turn the state around.

The Idaho Council on Suicide Prevention released the Idaho Suicide Prevention Plan on Tuesday, a report that focuses on bringing down the high suicide rate in the state with an onslaught of awareness campaigns and community education.

In 2010, Idaho’s suicide rate was 18.5, a full seven percentage points above the national average, according to the plan. Since 1995, the lowest the rate has dropped was 12.8 in 2000, still 2.4 percentage points above that year’s national average.

Organization Chair Kathie Garrett said something needs to change. Her organization was formed in 2006 by an executive order from former Governor Jim Risch, and has since fought hard to make a stand against suicide in Idaho. The new plan will hopefully be able to make a big change.

Garrett said it takes more than just ideas or legislation to make a difference. “You can’t prevent suicide in the state capital,” she said. “What it really takes is somebody who is interested in the issue, sitting down and bringing their friends and neighbors together and talking about it.”

In fact, empowering communities to get together and develop local strategies is one of the plan’s biggest goals. Garrett said sending out a message of hope is one of the strongest things anyone can do to help.

But singling out one or two goals as more important than any others would be unfair, she said. The problems run much deeper than just disorganized communities.

Stigma, the idea that getting help is somehow bad, is another big problem facing state suicide prevention groups. “Stigma is what prevents people from seeking help when they need it, thinking that something’s wrong, somebody will say something about it,” said Garrett. “How could we run suicide prevention activites without addressing that critical issue?”

Another big issue is education. While people might know the signs and symptoms of, say, a heart attack, many don’t know the signs of a potential suicide. Getting the message into schools, the media and the public could help the problem immensely.

One of Garrett’s personal pet projects, however, is establishing a statewide suicide hotline. She said Idaho is the only state without a hotline, so groups like hers are forced to direct people to the national line, which then directs calls to places like Portland, or cities even farther away.

Garrett said of all things, the hotline could benefit people in Idaho most directly. “It’s the foundation, it does truly save lives and it’s critical in Idaho,” she said.

The state hotline already has some funding and a facility, thanks to the state National Guard, but it will take at least $220,000 to establish and run for two years. After that, it will cost $160,000 to operate annually.

But Garrett isn’t worried about the money. She said things like the hotline are a cheap investment in saving lives, and that organizations and corporations have already shown an interest. The hard part is trying to actually bring the state suicide rate down.

The plan outlines several strategies to do just that, but many factors that are out of their hands. Suicide prevention organizations can’t control the economy and they can’t control the lack of mental health care providers in the state, she said.

Because of those factors, they may never know what they’re true impact on the suicide rate really is. “Our goal is to get it down as low as possible,” said Garrett. “We will never know what lives we saved, we just want to make sure we do all we can to save a life.”

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is free, confidential and open 24/7. Their number is 1.800.233.TALK (8255). The Idaho Suicide Prevention Plan can be viewed or downloaded in full from the Suicide Prevention Action Network of Idaho.

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