St. Luke’s is working to improve access to mental health services in the Magic Valley

“Idaho is still last in the nation in terms of psychiatrists per capita.”
St. Luke’s is working to improve access to mental health services in the Magic Valley
Published: Sep. 20, 2023 at 4:34 PM MDT
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TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) — Suicide continues to be a big issue in Idaho and the Magic Valley is particularly impacted by suicide. Doctor Michael Walton the Assistant Medical Director for Behavior Health service line at St. Luke’s told KMVT that the mountain states typically see the most suicides in the nation and Idaho looks to have the fifth highest rate of suicide in the country.

“We think for a couple of reasons,” said Walton. “Number one this particular part of the country is especially susceptible to climate pressure, to economic pressure, given the agriculture base and construction base of industry in this community.”

He said rural areas typically see many suicides due to access to lethal means.

Walton said St. Luke’s is working to expand mental health services and has expanded the number of providers by 350 percent since 2016, but the issue is an uphill battle.

“Idaho is still last in the nation in terms of psychiatrists per capita,” Walton said. “And when you look at our neighbor, Montana, we’re even 50% fewer per capita psychiatrists than the.”

Walton said psychiatrists tend to settle where they train in school and Idaho’s medical school is only several years in with one residency training program.

Suicide Prevention Program Manager Fallon Baraga said it’s important for the community to know you don’t need to be a medical professional in order to support someone you may be worried about and to know the signs of someone who may be struggling.

“You want to look for things that are out of the norm or uncharacteristic for that individual,” said Baraga. “Some examples might be giving away prized possessions or isolating oneself from typical groups they previously would have engaged in.”

She said if you sense someone you care about is struggling to practice what to say ahead of time you’re more comfortable bringing up the topic.

She said if you know someone who is struggling a great resource is the 9-8-8 Crisis and Suicide Hotline.

“It is preferential that you go with that person, or you call with that person, so anytime we can be with that person in accessing a resource that is really ideal,” said Baraga.

Although St. Luke’s continues to add expert clinicians to its clinic staff, wait times for mental health care at St. Luke’s are typical for the Magic Valley and the whole state, measured in months, not weeks.

Walton did say they are working to add new providers.

“We are adding a new clinic on North College Rd. We anticipate opening it this Fall and that will allow us to add 11 new providers to the community which we expect to really improve access and wait times.”

If you or someone you know is struggling more information can be found on the St. Luke’s suicide prevention website.