Idaho’s suicide rate up during COVID, after significant drop in 2019
The director of the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline says it’s tough to say if the virus was the reason for the increase
TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) — Idaho’s suicide rate hit a record high in 2020, after dropping down significantly in 2019 from the year before. KMVT looked into the matter to see how much the COVID-19 pandemic had to do with the rise in cases in 2020, and if the current trend will continue in 2021.
According to a report from the CDC, nationally Idaho had the biggest drop in per capita suicide rate from 2018 to 2019. It went down nearly 15%. Lee Flinn, who is the director of the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline thinks one of the reasons for the decline might be because in 2019 Idaho created a statewide suicide prevention plan.
“For a number of years there has been concerted effort toward state-level actions on suicide prevention, and it did start in 2019,” Flinn said.
However, in 2020 the number went back up at a record level, and Flinn said even though 2020 was a tough year for everyone with COVID, it is tough to say if the virus was the primary reason.
“I don’t think the dots specifically connect to suicide rates went up because of the pandemic,” Flinn said. “I don’t think we can be sure of that because in 2018 we also had a high suicide rate.”
Lori Stewart, who is the victim witness coordinator for Twin Falls County, agrees and said it’s tough to say how much COVID impacted suicide rates because Idaho has always ranked high in the nation when it comes to suicides.
“Some people talk about the ‘cowboy mentality’ here in Idaho. People are self-sufficient. They don’t seek help, and that may contribute to it,” Stewart said. “Elderly white males, 55 years of age and up are the highest category, but we certainly see a lot of teen and young adult suicides right now.”
Flinn also points out the Intermountain States often have high suicide rates, and one thing they have common is access to firearms. According to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, from 2014 to 2019, firearms were the most common mechanism of injury for suicides at 60%.
“When a person attempts suicide if they try to kill themselves with a firearm they are almost always successful,” Flinn said. “Gun ownership is very common in the West.”
She said it’s tough to say right now what 2021 is going to look like. Flinn said the call volume at Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline has risen the last three years: 2018 with 13,481 calls; 2019 with 13,794 calls; and 2020 with 14,172 calls.
“And the reasons that people are calling the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline now are the same reasons they called us last year and the year before,” Flinn said.
She said some common reasons why people call is they are struggling with a mental health condition, or somebody is struggling with a loss such as a divorce or a death in the family.
But at the end of the day, she and Stewart advise people dealing with depression, loss or a sense of isolation to reach out for help.
“The Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline is huge. We (Twin Falls) have the crisis center. They are open 24/7,” Stewart said. “The emergency room, law enforcement is a good resource.”
Flinn said it is also important for people to take care of themselves. It might be something simple like taking a break from stressful situations and taking a dog for a walk, going to church, calling a friend, or it can be just getting enough sleep and making sure people eat dinner.
Stewart said her group Magic Valley Suicide Awareness and Prevention is working on a positivity campaign for the month of May in the Magic Valley. May is Mental Health Awareness Month.
“So we are just in the planning stages,” Stewart said. “We are going to encourage people to do positive things for their neighbors, to reach out to people ... and to really make a positive impact in people’s lives.”
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