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