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Advocacy

The importance of advocating for suicide prevention in Idaho cannot be overstated. Idaho has been consistently ranked among the top ten states for number of completed suicides per capita since such statistics were first collected in the 1950’s. In 2006 (the most recent year available), Idaho was ranked 10th in the nation with a rate of 14.9 per 100,000 persons. In 2007, the rate of completed suicides in Idaho was 14.7 per 100,000 persons (national rank not yet available).

Certain Idaho populations are particularly at risk. The suicide rate among Idaho’s elderly males is 88 per 100,000, and among our Native American young men age 15 to 17 the rate is 115 per 100,000. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among Idahoan’s age 15 to 34. For more suicide statistics see the Idaho Suicide Fact Sheet.

Suicide is particularly devastating in the rural and frontier areas of Idaho where one suicide significantly impacts entire small communities for years, even generations.

What can you do to make positive change, to lower these rates, to save lives? Advocate!

Why advocate?

Idaho’s need for prevention is urgent.
This urgency is clearly shown by the statistics listed above. The impact of these statistics has a human face. It is estimated that for every one suicide there are at least six survivors (friends and family of those who die by suicide). This means that with Idaho’s annual average number of suicides at 215; approximately 1,300 Idahoans become suicide survivors each year. Many believe that the actual number of survivors per death by suicide is much higher than six.

Suicide is a serious public health issue, but is by and large not recognized or treated as one. Why? Policy makers and the general public are not educated about suicide. Why? Largely, stigma.

Stigma
Studies indicate that 85-94% of people who complete suicide have a mental health or substance abuse disorder. Stigma about mental illness and substance abuse leads to shame and disgrace which creates a barrier to seeking treatment. Suicide survivors are also affected by stigma, which may keep them from seeking help. Stigma often makes suicide a secret to be hidden in the dark, and is a serious challenge for prevention. Changing the perceptions that create stigma is difficult, but can be accomplished through the efforts of advocates speaking out and sharing their stories. Only through these types of efforts will our communities become educated about suicide.

Suicide is preventable public health problem.
Simply recognizing the warning signs may save a life. There is treatment for mental illness, substance abuse and other factors which increase the risk for suicide. Ensuring that protective factors are in place may also save a life.


Remembrance quilts on the Capitol lawn in
Washington DC at the 2005 SPAN USA rally.

Advocacy works.
We are fortunate to have many concerned citizens throughout Idaho advocating to bring the issue of suicide out of the dark. SPAN Idaho and our Regional Chapters are conducting public awareness activities for prevention all around the state including memorial walks, billboards, radio spots, television interviews and presentations to public, government and private organizations. We continue to receive positive feedback from those who have been touched and educated by awareness activities.

Idaho legislators are coming on board. In the 2005 and 2006 legislative sessions, Representative Kathie Garrett sponsored resolutions in support of suicide prevention. In the 2005 session, House Concurrent Resolution 17 urged colleges of education at Idaho colleges and universities to include in the teacher education curriculum a segment concerning suicide risk factors, protective factors and teen suicide warning signs. In 2006, House Concurrent Resolution 31 acknowledged the seriousness of the suicide crisis facing the state and the importance of suicide prevention by endorsing Idaho's Suicide Prevention Plan. Based on the advocacy provided by Rep. Garrett, SPAN Idaho and others, both of these resolutions were approved. This advocacy allowed the valuable opportunity to educate legislators about suicide in Idaho and the need for prevention.

The Governor’s Office has recognized the importance of this issue. On March 28, 2006, Governor Dirk Kempthorne signed an Executive Order establishing the Idaho Council on Suicide Prevention. The Council provides oversight for the Idaho Suicide Prevention Plan. The creation of this Council had been a long-time SPAN Idaho goal as it completes a statewide infrastructure for suicide leadership and prevention in Idaho. As part of her ongoing commitment to mental health issues, Mrs. Kempthorne worked closely with SPAN Idaho as the key advocate in achieving this goal.

In 2008 and 2009, Council Co-chair Kathie Garrett presented the Council’s annual report to the Governor and the State Legislature. This annual report includes recommendations related to the four goals of the Stat Plan. The Council continues to move forward on suicide prevention issues that require a state-level approach.

Advocacy results like these are our road to a greater understanding of suicide for all Idahoans and making suicide prevention a top priority for those in decision-making positions.

How do I advocate?

  • Talk about it! Talk about suicide, suicide prevention or just tell your story.
  • Talk to or write to your state and national elected officials about suicide.
  • Support legislation to address suicide at the state and national levels.
  • Give presentations to community groups.
  • Connect with your Regional SPAN Idaho Chapter and start your own grassroots group.
  • Educate your news and entertainment media. (See SPAN USA’s Media Guidelines Web page)
  • Educate the public.

To learn more about how you can help, visit SPAN USA’s What You Can Do Web page.

Learn more about advocacy in general, at the state level and what you can do to advocate at the national level on SPAN USA’s About Advocacy Web page. This site includes valuable information on:

  • Why people advocate
  • How you can be a successful advocate
  • How to communicate with your elected officials
  • A grassroots toolkit
  • The legislative process

HELP MAKE A DIFFERENCE TO SAVE LIVES – ADVOCATE

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