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Idaho Officials Working To Expand Suicide Prevention Efforts During Pandemic

Public health officials say they're concerned mental distress from the pandemic and the onset of another Idaho winter could increase suicide rates.
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Idaho's suicide rate is 57% higher than the national average.

Idaho's already high suicide rates could worsen as the COVID-19 crisis stretches into the winter months, and state officials are relying on technology for some outreach efforts.  

In 2017, around 22 suicide deaths per 100,000 Idahoans put the state among the top five in the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

At the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare's Center for Drug Overdose and Suicide Prevention, Program Manager Palina Louangketh works on drug overdose and suicide prevention.

She said she predicts social isolation, job loss and uncertainty will have mental health consequences long after the pandemic ends. But she said technology is allowing Idaho's seven public health districts to team up and continue to help people.

"Especially for rural Idaho, because we don't often get to go to out into those spaces physically," said Louangketh. "But with the online and increasing use of WebEx and Zooms and other teleconference features, we're able to connect to all those areas."

She added the agency is also partnering with suicide prevention leaders in Washington state and Oregon to expand outreach in the Mountain West.

Anyone can call or text Idaho's suicide prevention hotline at 208-398-4357. It's staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

In 2018, the state launched a plan aimed at reduced Idaho's suicide rate by 20% by 2025. Louangketh said the biggest task has been reducing stigma and discrimination associated with mental-health or substance-abuse issues.

She said the Department of Health and Welfare's website has a list of resources, including suicide-prevention training materials.

"And then we also have a training opportunity that folks can access too," said Louangketh. "It's an online platform called QPR training, gatekeeper training, to help people become become a little bit more proficient and comfortable familiarizing themselves with knowing what the signs are for possible suicide or risk of suicide."

She pointed out that reaching people at risk in remote, rural areas is a challenge, and says now more than ever, neighbors and community members should check in on one another, and not hesitate to ask for help.

"If you think about what the pandemic has done for not just Idaho, but across the nation and across the world, we really had to figure out an active way to come together," said Louangketh.

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Idahoans ages 15 to 34, and for men up to age 44.