The good news: There is a solution to Idaho’s suicide problem

Guest Opinion By John Leary, Idaho Statesman

Guest Opinion By John Leary, Coeur d'Alene/Post Falls Press

September 9, 2017

Imagine a society free of suicide, where no one is hesitant to talk about the “S” word, and suicide education is common practice

Did you know that as of 2015 Idaho has the sixth-highest suicide rate in the country? Do you know somebody who has completed suicide or been affected by a death by suicide? Chances are very high you will say yes. This is not insignificant, this is not something to be swept under the rug or not talked about because it is shameful or uncomfortable.

This happens every day, right in front of us. Based on research provided by LivingWorks, and applied to Idaho’s population, 92 Idahoans — men, women and children — think about suicide every day. Twenty-six of them make serious plans to carry it out every day. Twelve actually attempt suicide every day. And every day, one fellow Idahoan dies by suicide. Most people don’t know, don’t want to know, or ignore it. Suicide in Idaho is a problem.

The good news is, there is a solution to our problem with suicide.

Learn about suicide, why it happens, how to recognize the signs, and what to do and say when someone may be thinking of suicide. Acknowledge the problem, remove the stigma and be willing to talk openly about suicide without shame, embarrassment or fear. Connect with those around you and make a difference in their lives, and in your own life.

Idaho’s Legislature has taken a large step toward this solution by sustainably funding the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline and providing education to schools with preteens and teens through the Department of Health and Welfare. This is a great start and now we need to take the next step: suicide awareness, prevention and intervention education provided at low or no cost for all Idaho adults, tailored for each community.

Talk to your legislator; thank them for recognizing suicide in Idaho is a problem and for allocating funding for support and education. Then ask them to look at Nevada, where suicide prevention and intervention education has dropped that state out of the top 10 in terms of highest rates of suicide in the country. Ask them to look at Utah, where students are trained in schools to recognize warning signs among their peers and break the code of silence. Or Wyoming, where outreach and education programs have kept suicide rates from rising with the rest of the nation. Look at Oregon and Washington, where education initiatives have been made available to citizens of all ages, which has made a difference. Let your legislators know how much this means to you, and how important it is for solid, evidence-based education and outreach programs to continue.

Educating ourselves and supporting suicide prevention education in our state helps us to see that suicide can affect anybody, and helps us see how to talk about suicide and how to help a person in crisis. This week, the Idaho Suicide Prevention Coalition, a statewide alliance of groups emphasizing suicide awareness, prevention and intervention, has launched a public website to unify suicide education programs available in Idaho. The website shares a calendar of events, trainers, self-help resources and how to get involved, all broken out by region. Find trainings or learn how to set one up at

Now do something really courageous: Stop what you’re doing and take the time to reach out and connect with those around you. You just might recognize someone who has slipped into a place where suicide looks like an answer. Show them you care, and ask whether they are thinking about suicide.

Boise resident John Leary is a certified LivingWorks Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training workshop trainer. His goal is a network of trainers for suicide prevention and intervention education across the state.