Stopping Suicide 

The state is sixth in the nation when it comes to suicide rate

The correlation is undeniable: State by state, population density is one of the strongest predictors of suicide. All that loneliness, that isolation, that proud individualism that makes asking for help difficult adds up. Another major driver: access to firearms, which are used in more than half of Idaho's suicides.

The state is sixth in the nation when it comes to suicide rate, according to 2010 data from the Centers for Disease Control. Nearby Montana ranked third.

Yet for years, Idaho was the only state without a suicide hot line. That finally changed in November 2012. The state amassed enough funding to reopen the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline, which went dark in 2006 due to budget cuts.

"I think it's too early to tell if there's been an impact," said John Reusser, the hot line's director. "Anecdotally, I can say we've saved lives."

Last year, nearly 1,000 Idahoans--including 120 military members--dialed 1-800-273-8255 to receive counseling from a team of 43 volunteers manning the hot line. This year, the hot line has already received 752 calls. Follow-up calls have shown suicides have been prevented and callers have been connected with outside resources to help them get better.

Currently, those calling on weekends or between 1 and 9 a.m. on weekdays have their calls answered by a network of volunteers from other states, but by the end of the year, Reusser said the Idaho hotline will operate 24/7.

Local volunteers are crucial. When callers call from towns like Filer or Coeur d'Alene, Reusser said, Idaho volunteers know exactly where they're calling from, and what rural life is like: "We understand what it's like to live here."

It's far from the only effort to stop suicide in Idaho. Last year, the Idaho Department of Education won a three-year grant for youth suicide prevention.

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