Legislature debates funding amount for suicide prevention program

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BOISE — Suicide was a sensitive topic for lawmakers at the Division of Public Health Services budget hearing Jan. 29.

Among Idaho youth, suicide is the second-leading cause of death, division administrator Elke Shaw-Tulloch told the committee during the hearing. Shaw-Tulloch said between 2012 and 2016, Idaho lost 105 young people aged 6-18 to suicide.

The division’s budget request for the Youth Suicide Prevention Program was $523,800, which would allow for expansion of the “Sources of Strength” program to 25 additional schools. Gov. Butch Otter, however, recommended $256,600, which would limit the expansion to 17 schools this year. Sources of Strength is currently in 10 schools.

The funding request would also help the division incorporate “The Good Behavior Game,” which Shaw-Tulloch said will help first-graders learn coping and resiliency skills.

“What we’re seeing more and more with research coming out nationally about suicide prevention is the importance of what we call getting further upstream,” she said. “So in my mind, I almost think of it as pre-prevention work — how do we prevent children from becoming suicidal in the first place.”

Sen. Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville, asked what lawmakers could expect in the future, saying his district, District 7, has the highest suicide rates in the state. Shoshone and Clearwater counties, which are in Crabtree’s district, are two of six counties that had the highest suicide rates per capita from 2012 to 2016, according to a Division of Public Health 2017 report.

“I think now that we have some more time with our program, having the opportunity to get settled — because it hasn’t really been that long to have this state-level program — I think we’re really poised to be able to make some great headway to move forward,” Shaw-Tulloch said.

The division’s youth suicide prevention program started two years ago in 2016. Shaw-Tulloch said because the program is new, it is difficult to provide lawmakers with data regarding the effectiveness of the program in Idaho. Shaw-Tulloch also said it will be awhile before the program is fully implemented.

“Being able to have the funding at the state level and have a dedicated state program has been extremely helpful, to start coordinating from the top all the different partners,” she said. “Because as you can imagine, it’s a heart-wrenching issue to have to deal with and so I think we see everybody having almost a frantic ‘we’ve got to do something immediately,’ and we’re trying to make sure at the state level that we’re really evaluating what those best-practice programs are… but it is going to take some time.”

Nina Rydalch covers the 2018 Idaho Legislature for the University of Idaho McClure Center for Public Policy Research.

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