Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline Aims for 24/7 Presence 

"For the 700 to 800 calls that were taken, there were 700 to 800 calls that we haven't taken."

Mary Pierce looks behind the dismal suicide statistics and sees hope.

Idaho suicide rates rank among the highest in the country, while the state lags in public spending on mental health care--51st in the nation, just behind Puerto Rico. Additionally, more people die of suicide than auto accidents in the United States--a trend that has risen sharply during the past decade.

Suicide snuffs out a life approximately every 13 minutes; it can strike at any time of the day or night; and when an Idahoan reaches crisis, there may not always be a local lifeline.

Pierce sees the statistics as "100-percent preventable," and Idaho could provide that lifeline, she said.

"Ninety percent of people who die by suicide have a mental health issue or a substance abuse problem," said Pierce, Boise Veterans Affairs Medical Center Suicide Prevention coordinator. "That's why it's one of the most preventable kinds of deaths because if they can get mental health help, we feel it can be prevented."

In November 2012, Idaho relaunched the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-TALK)--a resource that has since offered support and connected nearly 795 callers to local mental health and crisis intervention resources. But director, John Reusser estimates that for every caller who reaches a local volunteer, another caller gets passed to out-of-state help. The local hot line doesn't operate 24/7--leaving resource gaps in preventing deaths that occur at all hours of the day.

"For the 700 to 800 calls that were taken, there were 700 to 800 calls that we haven't taken," said Reusser. "I want all of those calls to be captured in Idaho."

While trained volunteers donate their time to the hot line, the organization still solicits cash donations to maintain operations and to keep spreading the word that the hot line exists. A Friday, Oct. 4, concert benefit, featuring musician Antsy McClain, hopes to raise additional funds to help make the hot line a 24/7 service.

The hot line currently staffs local volunteers from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Calls that come into the hot line after hours are routed to hot line workers outside of Idaho--usually in Oregon. That may leave vital gaps in prevention and follow-up care because out-of-state hot lines aren't linked to data bases that could connect Idaho callers to local community assistance, including more than 1,200 local resources and follow-up care.

"If we're compassionate, and caring and nonjudgmental, we can help them," Pierce said.

The Antsy McClain Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline benefit concert at the Egyptian Theatre on Friday, Oct. 4 at 8 p.m.

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