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Detailed new five-year plan to guide suicide prevention, awareness in Idaho

October 4, 2018

An array of groups, from state agencies to hospitals to foundations to activists, have come together to develop a comprehensive plan for suicide prevention and awareness in Idaho, the next big step after the Legislature created a state office of suicide prevention two years ago and dedicated nearly $1 million a year in ongoing funding to it.

The five-year action plan is the top priority of the state Department of Health & Welfare in its budget request for next year, and it comes as new suicide statistics for Idaho are in, showing a significant increase in suicide deaths in the state.

In 2017, 393 Idahoans completed suicide, up from 351 a year earlier. In 2015, that figure was 362; in 2014, 320. The 2013 figure was 308; 2012, 299.

“It is alarming, of course, to see our rates continue to go up,” Elke Shaw-Tulloch, administrator of the Division of Public Health for the state Department of Health & Welfare, told the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee on Wednesday. “We are seeing that same trend across the nation.”

She added, “It’s a disease of despair, and how do we address all of that, connected to all the things that happen in people’s lives?” She said, “Things are under construction. We have more work to do. … We have reconfigured our existing budget to make sure that everything that we’re doing … is really focused.”

The budget request for next year comes to an additional $1.1 million in state funds, on top of about $1.3 million already in the base for the state’s suicide prevention program. It includes additional funding for the state suicide prevention hotline, which will continue to need some private funding; the establishment of seven regional collaboratives; a gap analysis and more.

Stewart Wilder, president of the Live Wilder Foundation and head of a broad state coalition against suicide, said the five-year plan was developed in time for an Aug. 15 deadline by 50 community members who also raised $90,000 in private donations to fund a professional facilitator, and who continue to meet. The plan aligns 12 goals and 60 objectives with page after page of specific tasks.

“No state has taken that deep a dive into it,” Wilder told lawmakers. He said funding came from St. Luke’s, Saint Alphonsus, Blue Cross of Idaho, the Albertson Foundation, and the Laura Moore Cunningham Foundation. “There’s no way we can do this with just the state,” Wilder said. “It’s the boots on the ground. It’s the hospital systems. It impacts everybody.”

In 2016, Idaho had the 8th highest suicide rate in the nation; national rankings haven’t yet been compiled for 2017. But Idaho’s been in the top 10 for decades. Its 2016 rate was 50 percent higher than the national average.

This year, state lawmakers passed legislation requiring all public school employees in the state to be trained in suicide prevention. As part of the budget request for next year, Health & Welfare is implementing a new “train the trainer” model to get more expertise on the issue spread around the state.

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Idahoans ages 15-34 and for males up to age 44. Idaho men are three times as likely to complete suicide as Idaho women. From 2013 to 2017, 110 Idaho schoolchildren ages 6 to 18 died by suicide; 25 of those were children age 14 or younger.

According to state statistics, from 2012 to 2016, 60 percent of suicides in Idaho were by firearm. Nineteen percent were by suffocation; 16 percent by poisoning.

JFAC members praised all those who worked on the plan. “I just really applaud all the efforts that everyone’s made,” said Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise.Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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