Save a Life: Learn to ask the tough question

Idaho State Journal, By Linda Hatzenbuehler

In what way are asking tough questions and paying taxes alike? Answer: We all avoid both as much as we possibly can. September was Suicide Prevention Month. So, what do asking tough questions and taxes have to do with the prevention of death by suicide?

More people die in the world by suicide than war, natural disasters, and accidents combined. A million people each year worldwide die by suicide. Suicide is the number one cause of death for teenage girls globally. Annually in the United States, more firefighters die by suicide than in fires. In 2015, over 44,000 Americans died by suicide; 362 of those deaths were Idahoans, 11 times the number of Idahoans who died by homicide. Idaho was ranked fifth in the nation per capita in death by suicide. Veterans are a particularly vulnerable group. In 2014, almost 7,500 veterans died by suicide nationwide. Fifty-four of those veterans lived in Idaho.

Suicide is preventable; most people who are suicidal don’t want to die. But unlike other public health issues like measles that can be prevented with vaccines, it takes a community to prevent suicide—a community that is not shy about asking the question: “Have you had thoughts of killing yourself?” when we are with a person who is demonstrating some changes in his/her behavior, such as isolating; sleep disturbance; and/or general despondency. When the answer to that question is “Yes,” these follow-up steps can save lives:

1. Listen well by withholding judgment and not trying to problem-solve.

2. Validate their problems, but also talk to them about reasons for living.

3. Offer statements of hope like, “I care if you live.”

4. Do not leave them alone until they can get help.

5. Remember the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline is always a good option: 208-398-HELP (4357).

Talking about suicide doesn’t increase the risk of death by suicide. Open discussion increases the likelihood that the suicidal person will get the help he/she needs.

Note Step #4. When our friends, neighbors, and loved ones admit that they can no longer hold on because their emotional pain is so severe and they are exhausted, they need a place to go that is safe. They need to be separated from the lethal means (gun, pills, etc.) in their suicidal plan, and they need help to work through the crisis they are experiencing.

Where can a person with suicidal thoughts get help? One of the most effective places is a Crisis Center. Crisis Centers are places where people in all types of mental health or substance abuse crises can go for 24 hours to de-escalate the crisis and learn some tools to help them prevent future crises, including thoughts and plans for suicide. Crisis Centers are far better alternatives to expensive hospital emergency rooms.

A Community Alliance, made up of a wide array of individuals interested in improving needed resources in our community, has been working to establish a Crisis Center in Pocatello. The new Crisis Center is part of a Bannock County bond election coming up on November 7. The bond, if approved, will fund the building needed for the Crisis Center and a Transition Center and help upgrade and update the Bannock County Jail. Transition Centers serve individuals who need longer stays than Crisis Centers and additional treatment and housing. They particularly benefit those individuals challenged with substance abuse and addictions. Pocatello doesn’t have a Transition Center either. You can learn more about the bond proposal at or facebookcom/bannockcountyelections/.

So besides learning how to ask the tough questions and responding with appropriate follow-up steps, what else can our community do to prevent suicide? We can support the upcoming bond election which will provide the additional resources that our community desperately needs.

In the meantime, please pass on these important crisis hotline numbers: Idaho Hotline: 208-398-HELP (4357); Veterans Hotline: 800-273-8255. Help save a life.

Linda C. Hatzenbuehler, is the chair of the Idaho Suicide Prevention Council.