TWIN FALLS • The Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline will use a $300,000 donation to offer crisis text and online chat services, with a focus on helping teenagers.
Teenagers are struggling, said J.A. and Roger Quarles, executive director of the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation, and Idaho has the sixth highest teen suicide rate in the country.
To address that issue, the foundation — which focuses on promoting better education opportunities — decided to donate money specifically to help that population.
For teenagers, calling a hotline is “a little bit prohibitive,” Quarles said. “They’ve got to muster up the courage to call.”
By offering text and online chat services, it will hopefully be a better way for teenagers to get help, he said.
The hotline announced last week it received the gift from the and Albertson Foundation.
Idaho has the seventh highest suicide rate — 47 percent higher than the nationwide average. And it’s even higher among youth.
“Any increase in services is wonderful,” said Lori Stewart, a member of south-central Idaho’s board for Suicide Prevention Action Network of Idaho. “I think it’s vital in our fight against suicide.”
Grant money will be used to upgrade infrastructure, pay for phone costs for the next five years and increase staffing.
New offerings will roll out incrementally starting Jan. 1. But the text number won’t be publicly advertised right away.
It will be distributed first at a couple of high schools to gain a sense of the need, said John Reusser, director of the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline.
A chat feature will be available on the hotline’s website.
New efforts to help teenagers are particularly relevant here in the Magic Valley. Twin Falls has one Idaho’s highest suicide rates, Stewart said. And six of seven Idaho schools in a statewide suicide prevention project are in Mini-Cassia.
The suicide prevention hotline number (1-800-273-TALK) is prominently displayed at the I.B. Perrine Bridge. But many local residents in need aren’t using the service.
“We definitely see a lack of help-seeking in our area,” Stewart said.
The hotline provides help to Idahoans who are in crisis or suicidal, and connects them with local resources.
Currently, 12 percent of callers are youth. And around the country, other hotlines are using text and online offerings to reach more people.
“We realized it was something imperative for us as a hotline,” Reusser said.
Statewide, suicide is the second leading cause of death for boys ages 10-14 and all Idahoans ages 15-34, according to SPAN of Idaho.
But it’s important to broach the subject with every age group, Stewart said. “Anytime we can open conversation and bring light to the issue, it is a good thing.”
At the hotline, three or four responders staff each shift, Reusser said, and at least one will respond to text and online chat messages.
For teenagers, texting is “a channel of communication they’re using most,” he said, and they’re more likely to disclose more information quickly.
Another effort to help youth is Idaho Lives — a partnership between the Idaho Department of Education and SPAN Idaho — which targets 10 to 24-year-olds.
Schools were chosen for Idaho Lives this year through a blind review process, and some of the most in need were in Mini-Cassia — six out of seven chosen in the state.
Participating schools are Burley Junior High School, Cassia Junior/Senior High School, Minico High School in Rupert, Mt. Harrison Junior/Senior High School in Heyburn, Total Learning Center in Rupert and West Minico Middle School in Paul. The only school from outside Mini-Cassia is Parkview/Ridgeline High School in Nampa.
School employees are trained on youth suicide data, warning signs and how to intervene. Youth leaders are trained on how to recognize their sources of strength and provide help for their peers. Then, they implement activities and programs.
Idaho went without its own suicide-prevention hotline for six years, until it was launched in November 2012. Two years ago, it expanded to provide help 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
But the hotline doesn’t have long-term, sustainable funding, Reusser said. A coalition has formed to seek money to keep it up-and-running.
“The suicide prevention hotline operates on a shoe-string budget,” Quarles said.