Suicide in Idaho far more common than murder

In 2014, 320 people completed suicide in Idaho, and 30 people died by homicide. In other words, death by suicide is 10 times more frequent than other violent deaths.

This week is Suicide Prevention Week, and Sept. 10 was World Suicide Prevention Day. The goal this week is to raise awareness of suicide as a major preventable cause of premature death. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for Idahoans age 15-34 and for males age 10-14. (The leading cause of death is accidents.) Idaho is consistently among the states with the highest suicide rates. In 2013, Idaho had the 7th highest suicide rate in the nation, 47 percent higher than the national average. Between 2010 and 2014, 96 Idaho school children (age 18 and younger) died by suicide. Twenty of these were younger than 14.

The unemotional data above take on true meaning when death by suicide affects one’s life, as it has mine, and chances are it has affected most readers of this article. The purpose of publicizing the statistics is to underscore that suicide is a preventable death. People harboring thoughts of suicide want to live but are unable to find other means to end their emotional pain. There are no immunizations that can prevent this tragic loss of lives. Instead, we — as friends, family, teachers, coaches, neighbors and colleagues — are the primary sources of preventative measures for suicide.

Vigilance for the warning signs is the key to addressing this public health problem in our community just like early detection of physical health symptoms can save lives. Talking about suicide does not cause deaths by suicide; rather, learning the warning signs is one of the major steps toward interrupting the trajectory toward death by suicide.

Suicide warning signs for both adults and youth include the following:

· Talking about, making a plan or threatening to complete suicide.

· Expressing hopelessness about the future or feeling trapped.

· Displaying severe/overwhelming emotional pain or distress.

· Isolation or withdrawal from friends, family or school activities.

· Agitation, especially when combined with sleeplessness.

· Nightmares.

· Changes in sleeping or eating patterns.

· Major or sudden changes in mood or in habits.

· Anger/irritability/recklessness.

· Showing worrisome behavioral cues or marked changes in behavior, particularly in the presence of the warning signs above.

Recognizing these signs is the first step. Talking about them with the person is step two. Again, talking about suicide does not increase its likelihood and is a key preventative measure. Removing means (guns, pills, etc.), including universal use of gun locks, is another key component to preventing deaths by suicide. Finally, helping the individual seek the help they need is critical. Even after treatment interventions are started, ongoing social support and contact are needed as the person works to change their sense of hopelessness and burdensomeness.

There are multiple sources that list in detail the warning signs and other resources for prevention of suicide, including: SPAN Idaho (spanidaho.org) and the American Association of Suicidology (suicidology.org/resources/warning-signs) and the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (sprc.org/training-institute). Questions, Persuade, Refer (QPR) training is available for the prevention of deaths by suicides and is as effective as CPR is for heart attacks. QPR trainings are available in our communities as well as online.

The Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline has key resources available 24 hours per day, 7 days per week (1-800-273-8255).

Spread the word, and help to end this tragic loss of lives in Idaho.

Linda Hatzenbuehler is the chairwoman of the Idaho Council on Suicide Prevention. She is also the vice provost and executive dean for Idaho State University’s Division of Health Sciences.