State suicide prevention funding to increase by 20%

By ERIN BAMER, Idaho Press

BOISE — Legislative budget writers on Wednesday approved a $200,000 increase in funding for state suicide prevention efforts next year, rather than the $1 million boost the state Department of Health & Welfare requested and Gov. Brad Little recommended.

Sen. Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville, said it’s still a 20 percent increase in state funding for suicide prevention; it comes as hundreds of stakeholders have spent the past year working on a detailed action plan aimed at reducing Idaho’s high suicide rates.

“Just because you have a plan doesn’t make it successful,” Crabtree said. “Our hope is we can develop the relationships that are required to make a plan successful, then test the plan. I don’t think it’s a delay. It’s a way to build it solid first, and then put the fuel to the fire.”

The funding decision came just a day after suicide prevention advocates made presentations to lawmakers in both houses about their plan to reduce Idaho suicides by 20 percent by 2025. 

New state Health & Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen, who told lawmakers in January that the suicide prevention boost was his No. 1 priority for the coming year, said, “Would we have liked to have the whole money? Yes. But I think we still have a significant amount of money, with a group of committed public and private individuals and organizations, that allows us to continue forward and make meaningful progress.”

The stakeholders who came together to develop the plan have formed the Idaho Suicide Prevention Action Collective, which includes state agencies, advocacy groups, the Veterans Administration, courts, police and more. 

Stewart Wilder with the Idaho Suicide Prevention Coalition said the $1 million request would support training infrastructure, implement a new suicide prevention model and add funding for the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline; it would have doubled the current state budget for suicide prevention.

Representatives from the collective spoke to House and Senate panels Tuesday to share more about their goals and ask for the legislators' support. 

Idaho has a suicide rate of 22.9 per 100,000 people, which is four times higher than Washington, D.C., according to Robert Polk, chairman of the collective. Polk said he believes Idaho's suicide rate is higher based on the state's rural makeup, easier access to weapons and lower access to health care. 

Sen. Maryanne Jordan, D-Boise, applauded the collective's plan but said she was concerned that it lacked a means to help the LGBT community. She said LGBT youth statistically are more likely to attempt suicide, and she asked if the group planned on addressing that problem. Polk said they intend to. 

Sen. Fred Martin, R-Boise, asked whether talking about suicide was a cause of suicide or if it deterred future attempts. Wilder said it is a myth that talking about suicide adds to the problem. In fact, Linda Hatzenbuehler with the Idaho Council on Suicide Prevention said making people more comfortable with talking about suicide is one of the best ways to prevent deaths. 

"One of the cultural changes that needs to happen in order for us to truly impact the rate of death by suicide in Idaho is that all of us have to become comfortable with asking, talking about those kinds of things with people that we love and people that we know," Hatzenbuehler said. "And we're not comfortable."

Martin said he considers the issue "extremely important," and said he hopes Idaho can continue to focus on the subject and implement means to prevent suicide attempts moving forward. 

"If you perceive someone around you as having a difficulty, I would hope we would all be able to come up to them and just talk," Martin said. 

Erin Bamer is the city of Nampa reporter. Contact her at 208-465-8193, or ebamer@idahopress.com. Follow on Twitter @ErinBamer.