MAGIC VALLEY — Suicide is the second-leading cause of death in Idaho for those between the ages of 10 and 44.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Idaho's suicide rate is 46% higher than the national suicide rate.
Although the exact cause of why suicide rates are high in Idaho is unknown, St. Luke's Health System is conducting a three-year research study to help combat this issue.
“One of the struggles that I think is unique to Idaho, because we are so rural, is that in a lot of those rural areas, access to mental health care is harder to get," Jessica Torres, project manager for the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline, said.
The three-year research study became a reality after St. Luke's received a $3.4 million grant from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute in 2019.
As the pandemic started, the research had to be put on hold for nearly a full year, but the trial resumed in May 2021.
Their goal is to compare two evidence-based follow-up interventions.
“One involves carrying text messages that go out over a year, and the other is more phone call based. Both of these are effective and can cut suicide risk in half, but we want to see which one works better and which one people like better," said Dr. Anna Radin, Research Scientist for St. Luke's Health System.
These follow-up interventions are also crucial in providing suicide prevention support in rural areas since the resources in those areas can be limited.
“We can support them in these pretty simple and non-intrusive ways. It’s not a dramatic change in their life to get the support they need," Torres said.
The research will involve participants communicating via text, email, or phone call with teammates at the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline. They will also be completing a series of surveys to inform the team on how effective the means of communication were.
“We don’t have to have a room full of psychologists or clinicians or highly specialized trained individuals. We can have a wonderful team of our community members that are well trained and are experts in how to connect with people, and were struggling with suicide that could deliver the intervention just as effectively," Dr. Radin said.
The research study aims to enroll nearly 1,400 participants over a year and a half. This will include 600 adolescents and 800 adults.
Dr. Radin says they want to inform suicide prevention efforts in healthcare and crisis hotline settings.
“Just looking at what makes Idaho unique from a public health perspective, unfortunately, suicide is one of the things that really stands out. We’re one of the highest states in the country when it comes to suicide risk, and we knew there was more that needs to be understood about the science behind suicide prevention and how to keep people safe."