Schools officials, law enforcement personnel, and others came together Thursday at the LDS Institute of Religion on the campus of Boise State University to discuss teen suicide prevention efforts in the state. The event is part of a series of roundtables across the state designed to help administrators become more aware of resources available in the fight against teen suicide. Similar discussions have been held in parts of north Idaho, as well as Pocatello, Idaho Falls, Caldwell, and Pocatello. The final meeting is set for Friday in Twin Falls at the county courthouse.
Former state Rep. Kathie Garrett, chairperson of the Idaho Council on Suicide Prevention, said that resources are available in the community, but often times those in contact with teenagers the most, such as teachers, school counselors, or administrators, aren’t aware of steps they can take to help students struggling with depression or other forms of mental illness. According to Garrett, the roundtables, which are sponsored by the Idaho Department of Welfare (DHW) and Department of Education, along with the non-profit organization Suicide Prevention Action Network of Idaho (SPAN), are meant to help local officials in each community begin communicating with one another to find areas where different schools and community groups can cooperate to prevent teen suicide.
One the main focuses of Thursday’s meeting in Boise was how to handle the after-effects of a suicide in a community. Garrett said discussion centered on how teachers, administrators, and even receptionists should communicate with students following the tragedy of a teen suicide. ”Words really matter,” she said. School employees must handle teen suicides delicately, warned Garrett, or else other teens might “copy-cat” others in the act.
DHW is facing massive budget reductions for fiscal year 2011, which starts July 1, and has started enacting cost-savings measures. The department is in the process of laying off more than a hundred employees and closing nine field offices, many in Idaho’s more rural areas. Office closures, said Garrett, are ultimately hurting the state’s mental health efforts. ”Right now, what we’re responding to is crisis rather than crisis prevention,” Garrett said. Because of the lack of funding for treatment in the state, Garrett said that individuals who could have been helped by community programs are now being pushed to the point of crisis, where recovery becomes much more difficult and even insurmountable. As a result of the cuts to mental health program, Garrett points out, the state is beginning see increased levels of hospitalization for mental health-related problems, as well as higher rates of incarceration for those with substance abuse problems.
Some lawmakers in the Legislature advocate that the state should reduce the role of social services by the state and shift that burden to the family and community and religious groups. Garrett said that though families and religious groups must provide support and faith during mental illness hardships, the state needs to provide services to cure the illness because it is an identifiable disease. All parties involved – individuals, the state, religious and community groups – must be involved to provide a complete recovery from mental health ills.
According to the 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 14 percent of all Idaho teens have seriously considered suicide, which is 1 percent below the national average. Thoughts of suicide are considerably higher among teenage girls than among boys. Approximately 23 percent of girls in 10th grade surveyed said they seriously considered suicide, compared with a rate of about 13 percent for boys the same age. However, men in Idaho were five times more likely to die of suicide than women,according to the Bureau of Vital Statistics data from 2005 to 2007. During that same time period, suicide was the second in the leading cause of death for Idahoans between the ages of 10 and 34.