Suicide Prevention Conference

Experts at a Wednesday panel discussion in Boise discuss how Idaho can combat its high suicide rate.

BOISE — Idaho’s suicide rate is 58 percent higher than the national rate, and reflects a 44 percent increase over the last 10 years, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

Suicide across the nation is a “true public health crisis,” said Barry Smith, chairman and CEO of Magellan Health, a Fortune 500 health care company.

“It is something that is close to us,” Smith said. “It is something that impacts our lives and is material to all of our families.”

Smith, along with hundreds of state leaders, local community members and suicide prevention organizations, came together in downtown Boise on Wednesday for Magellan Health’s free suicide-prevention focused conference.

Suicide is prominent across the country — it’s the 10th leading cause of death and claims twice as many lives as homicide. Idaho is no exception. In 2016, Idaho had the eighth-highest suicide rate in the U.S., according to the Department of Health and Welfare.

Though Idaho’s suicide rates remain high, Kim Kane, former program manager for the Suicide Prevention Program with the DHW, said the state has made progress in working to combat suicide.

“The progress that I think has been made over the last several years has just been exponential with the things that have been possible with the combination of federal and state funds, which I think are really required for efforts,” she said.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that the Idaho Legislature began funding statewide suicide prevention efforts. That funding created a state Office of Suicide Prevention, an array of groups committed to carrying out a coordinated statewide suicide prevention plan and provided ongoing funding for the state’s 24/7 suicide prevention hotline.

“Exponentially, we have seen so much change in Idaho,” said Judy Gabert, program specialist for Idaho Lives Project, a joint suicide project with the Department of Health and Welfare and the Idaho State Department of Education.

This year, lawmakers passed a memorial urging Idaho’s congressional delegation to support designating a simpler number — 611— to the national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline.

A critical step to solving the suicide crisis, Smith said, is through education and awareness.

“This is something that is happening today in the community all around us, everywhere we are,” Smith said. “It’s a topic that’s uncomfortable, but unless we talk about it and deal with it and allow people to be aware of it, we won’t be able to make the impact.”

Ensuring people understand the signs of suicide, as well as promoting community and statewide educational programs, plays an important role in starting the conversation and ending the stigma around suicide, Smith said.

Corey Surber, director of state advocacy for Saint Alphonsus Health System, said improvements across the state need to be made to fill the gaps, and that integrating mental health into primary care practices, as well as streamlining transitions in care, can help.

Saint Alphonsus partners with the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline to provide follow-ups for patients who were assessed at higher risks in the emergency departments.

The risk of a suicide attempt is highest within 30 days of discharge from an emergency department, and 45 percent of people who have completed suicide had visited their primary care doctor within the last 30 days.

“Within the health care industry there is recognition that we as health care providers have a tremendous responsibly to effectively assess risk, intervene and ensure the right follow-up for patients that present to us an elevated risk for suicide,” Surber said. “We need to continue to improve what we’re doing.”

Savannah Cardon is the Caldwell reporter for the Idaho Press. Follow her on Twitter, @savannahlcardon, or reach her at 208-465-8172.