By KYLE PFANNENSTIEL, Idaho Press-Tribune
NAMPA — It may seem simple, but just talking about it openly is one way Idahoans can help tackle suicidal thoughts and tendencies.
Mental health experts and community leaders took part in a panel discussion Tuesday at Nampa High School and addressed how open discourse, among other efforts, can improve suicide prevention and help at-risk youth.
The panel began by sharing Idaho-specific facts about suicide, such as how Idaho, according to the state Department of Health and Welfare, had the eighth-highest suicide rate in the U.S. in 2016. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Idahoans age 15-34 and for males 44 years old and under.
Many on the panel agreed that just asking the question straightforward, “Are you considering suicide?” is the only way to know without a doubt if someone is considering suicide and an important tool for opening that discussion.
Eric Adams, a phone room supervisor with the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline, is particularly familiar with asking that question. That’s one of the many questions hotline workers ask to assess a caller’s safety.
“We’ll let them tell their stories,” he said. “Sometimes these folks of all ages have never actually said out loud, ‘I’m not doing OK,’ and we ask them, ‘Are you feeling suicidal?’ — ‘Yeah,’ and it’s the first time they ever cognitively put two and two together, that these feelings are suicide thoughts.”
Adams noted the suicide prevention hotline has text message services available to counsel people in crisis. He also said the suicide prevention hotline is a confidential resource, but said if they feel someone is “at imminent risk of suicide” or if they feel a crime is committed, like child abuse or negligence, they must report that information.
Dr. Chris Streeter, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital, echoed points made by other panelists. He said asking the question is his first recommendation for parents worried their child may be at risk, later dispelling potential fears it could have a reverse effect.
“There is absolutely no evidence that you’re somehow going to plant the idea in their head if you ask directly,” Streeter said.
Affected personally by suicides by some close to her, Shannon Decker, executive director of a mental health nonprofit called the Speedy Foundation, said she wishes she’d learned that sooner.
“I know for a fact that if I had been given direct instruction as a teenager, the same way I was given direct instruction in health class about every health issue, that I would have been equipped to ask these questions and potentially have saved some lives,” said Decker, whose cousin Olympic silver medalist Jeret “Speedy” Peterson died of suicide in 2011 and after whom the Speedy Foundation is named.
Many agreed youth suicide prevention must be handled by the whole community. Clinical social worker and therapist Janelle Stauffer, a Nampa school board member, urged that the issue needs to be handled by the whole community.
“In any community, the school district has the greatest access to kids and their families and so can serve as a screening mechanism and provide all the education we’re talking about. But it’s not enough, it’s a limited resource,” Stauffer said, adding later, “This can’t be a K-12 issue. It has to be a community issue.”