Idaho’s needed commitment to suicide prevention efforts

By Shannon Decker & W. Stewart Wilder | Idaho Statesman, Guest Opinion

Between 2010 and 2014, 96 Idaho schoolchildren died by suicide; 20 were 14 or younger. Suicide is the second-leading cause of reported deaths for Idahoans age 15-34 and for males age 10-14. Alarmingly, the Centers for Disease Control released concern of a growing trend of adolescent female suicide rates. Idaho’s suicide rate continues to climb about 4 percent annually, a trend most disturbing.

Suicide Prevention Awareness Week starts Monday and is a time to heighten the national and international conversation on this public health crisis. While the statistics above should give great concern to every Idahoan, it is important to communicate the great work of many in recent years to address the issue of suicide in our communities.

The Idaho Health Quality Planning Commission and the Idaho Legislature have identified suicide as the No. 1 public health issue facing our state, and over this past legislative session, nearly $1 million was approved to start funding for prevention efforts in the state’s budget. The support was not easy to obtain, but thanks to many individuals and organizations fighting for mental health and suicide prevention, both public and private, the legislation passed and Gov. Butch Otter signed into law. This funding is directed at four key strategies outlined by the commission.

▪  Funding for a state office on suicide prevention. This critical program, under the Department of Health and Welfare, will be tasked to coordinate and implement strategies on suicide prevention in concert with the Idaho Suicide Prevention Plan.

▪  Sustainable funding for the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline. This valuable resource to our communities will now have 60 percent of its annual funding needs provided by the state and a wonderful public/private arrangement to generate sustainable funding annually.

▪  School prevention programming. Evidence shows that gatekeeper training, peer mentorship and resiliency programs do work to prevent suicide and other mental and physical health problems in K-12 and university school settings.

▪  Awareness campaigns. Our society has embraced campaigns regarding seat belts, tobacco (Idaho Filter Project), methamphetamine (Idaho Meth Project) and many others over the years, but we have not collectively addressed awareness around mental health and suicide prevention. Funding is in place to begin just such a program, which is a step to significantly chip away at the stigmas associated with mental health and suicide.

As with any medical condition, proper diagnosis is the first step to treatment. These efforts and others under the direction of the state office will have a great impact on how we screen, diagnose and set up treatment for mental health, no differently that we should for cancer, diabetes, heart and other physical ailments for all ages. The human brain is the most complex organ in the body, and we give it the least attention. This is changing and, yes, will take time, energy and funding, but if it saves just one life, it is worth it. The life saved may be your own child, grandchild, family member or neighbor.

Shannon Decker is executive director and co-founder of The Speedy Foundation (thespeedyfoundation.org). W. Stewart Wilder is president and co-founder of LiveWilder Foundation (livewilder.org) and president of the Idaho Suicide Prevention Coalition. 1-800-273-TALK