Idaho works to decrease suicide rate

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BOISE — Suicide rates in Idaho have consistently been one of the highest in the nation, according to the state’s Department of Health & Welfare. The most current statistics from 2017 show Idaho is ranked fifth for suicide deaths.

On Monday, Jan. 28, Elke Shaw-Tulloch, administrator of the Division of Public Health, requested an additional $1,026,100 for fiscal year 2020 at the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee hearing for support for the state’s Suicide Prevention Action Plan, suicide prevention hotline and the launch of Zero Suicide which would help expand suicide care in Idaho.

“(Suicide prevention) is the number one priority for the department,” Shaw-Tulloch said in her presentation to JFAC.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for Idahoans age 15-34 and for males up to age 44, according to the Suicide Action Prevention Network of Idaho. Between 2013 and 2017, 78 percent of suicides were by men.

In 2006, the Idaho Council on Suicide Prevention was established to advise legislators on suicide prevention policy and is responsible for developing a suicide prevention plan for the state. Last legislative session, JFAC told the Council to make a new plan and encouraged them to reach out to prevention experts, resources and other SP programs.

A large portion of the requested funding would aid the state’s five-year suicide prevention plan of which more than 30 Idaho groups from regional hospitals and police departments to non-profit suicide prevention organizations worked jointly to create.

The new plan consists of 12 goals and 60 objectives that’s designed to reduce Idaho’s suicide rate by 20 percent by 2025 and ultimately eliminate suicide. The plan is also aligned with the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention. This is the first time since 2011 the plan has been revised.

In 2014, the Idaho Lives Project was created under a federal grant, but since became a state-funded program after the collaboration of Idaho’s Division of Public Health and the State Department of Education in 2016.

The ILP implemented Sources of Strength, a training program which trains teachers and students in junior and high school through resilience, instilling skills to observe warning signs for depression and seeking resources to get help quickly.

“This program is more than just a one-time training. It is implemented as an ongoing program to ensure changes in cultural norms in the school environment,” ILP program director, Katie Walker said in an email.

At the end of the 2018-2019 school year, 80 of Idaho’s public schools will have gone through the Sources of Strength training since it began in 2014.

Despite ILP’s efforts, one lawmaker believes the program isn’t working fast enough.

“We’ve got to help these schools. They can’t wait anymore, we’ve got to quit waiting,” Rep. Caroline Troy, R-5B, said in an interview.

One in five Idaho youth attending regular public and charter high schools reported seriously considering suicide in 2017, according to the Suicide Action Prevention Act Network of Idaho.

Last March, the Jason Flatt Act was passed with the help of Troy and many other state legislators, making Idaho the 20th state to do so. The act requires all public school personnel including bus drivers, custodians, coaches, and all others who interact with students to go through annual suicide prevention and awareness training.

“We know that when people are trained in suicide identification and intervention, it saves lives,” said Shaw-Tulloch at the JFAC hearing.

This legislative session, Troy introduced a house joint memorial that is currently on the House floor for its second reading. Troy’s HJM 1 requests support of Idaho’s congressional delegation in proposal before the Federal Communications Commission to designate 611 as the National Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Hotline.

The current national hotline number is 1-800-273-8255 and Idaho’s Suicide Prevention hotline number is 208-398-4357.

“I don’t know about you, but if I were in crisis that would be a hard number to remember,” Troy said during a House Health & Welfare hearing on Thursday.

Among the funding requests from the Division of Public Health, $117,200 will support the Idaho Suicide Prevention hotline for expansion projects including local crisis centers, county jails, overnight response and amplify volunteer impact.

“We know hotlines are evidence-based and we know they save lives,” Shaw-Tulloch said at the budget hearing.

The Idaho Council on Suicide Prevention will meet in March tentatively to finalize the state’s new plan.

Cheyenna McCurry is a legislative intern with the James A. and Louise McClure Center for Public Policy Research in Boise, and a student in the University of Idaho School of Journalism and Mass Media.

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