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Idaho State University receives suicide prevention hotline grant

September 16, 2008
ISU Marketing and Communications

Idaho State University’s Institute of Rural Health and Counseling Department have received a state grant to start a Suicide Prevention Hotline for Idaho, which has one of the highest suicide rates in the country.

The first year of the project will involve recruiting and training operators to staff the hotline as well as obtaining accreditation through a national network.

In the second year, the toll-free hotline will be accessible to Idahoans 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Funding will be provided by a community collaboration grant appropriated by the Idaho Legislature for mental health programs.

“We will call upon our master’s and doctoral students in Counseling at the Pocatello and Boise campuses, as well as community volunteers, to work as operators for the hotline,” said Counseling Department Chairman Steve Feit, Ed.D.  “We will be preparing a special curriculum to train them as crisis operators and faculty will supervise operations in the second year.”

The Institute of Rural Health will work with communities and advocates statewide to obtain national accreditation that will allow ISU’s hotline to be part of a national suicide prevention phone network called Lifeline. ISU’s hotline can then be connected to the Lifeline network.

“Lifeline will allow us a failsafe if our operators  for some reason are unable to take a call,” said ISU-Boise senior research associate Ann Kirkwood, M.A., who will serve as principle investigator for the project. “Idaho has been one of only three states without hotlines connecting to the Lifeline program.”

It is expected that accreditation also will assist ISU and advocates as they seek sustainable funding after the grant.  An advisory partnership will be created with the primary charge of seeking sustainable funding beyond the grant period.

Idaho’s previous hotline closed in January 2007 and Lifeline operators, as a professional courtesy, have been taking the state’s crisis calls since that time.  However, a significant number of calls require Idaho information and referral to Idaho’s mental health resources, which Lifeline operators are unable to provide.

A Lifeline report for 2007 said 40 percent of calls from Idaho came from Ada County with another 40 percent from Canyon, Kootenai and Bannock counties.

While not high users of the hotline by volume because of small population bases, Idaho’s rural residents also need a hotline because of a lack of mental health resources in these areas. Rural suicide rates in Idaho are high, most of them above the national rates. Rural areas with the highest suicide rates in Idaho are Boundary, Elmore, Bear Lake and Valley counties.

Idaho’s overall suicide rate averaged over five years is 16 per 100,000 population and the national rate is 11. Idaho consistently ranks in the top 10 states for its rate of suicide.

“Our students will call upon our internship partnerships with mental health providers across the state to assist with information and referral,” Feit said. In addition, the state’s information and referral 2-1-1 CareLine also will assist.

Mental health and suicide prevention advocates in the Treasure Valley endorsed ISU’s grant application. More than 20 health care and mental health providers and advocates across the state wrote letters of support.

“A recent study conducted to survey people who had called Lifeline centers indicates that 14 percent reported the call had averted their suicide,” Kirkwood said. “Interviewed two to three weeks after their call to the Lifeline, people reported a significant reduction in intent to die, hopelessness and psychological pain. Another study showed that 7 percent of hotline callers are at imminent risk and 17 percent are thinking about suicide, with many more calls made by concerned friends and family members.”

For more information, contact Ann Kirkwood at ISU-Boise, 208-373-1767 or Steve Feit in Pocatello, 208-282-3156. E-mails are kirkann@isu.edu and feitstep@isu.edu.



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