Teen suicide rates in Idaho a cause for concern

Posted at 9:46 PM, Feb 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-22 09:27:34-05

In 2015, almost 20 percent of Idaho's youth seriously considered ending their life. While organizations like the Suicide Prevention Action Network of Idaho works to educate the public, parents are doing their best to catch warning signs early on.

Idaho ranks 42nd in the nation when it comes to mental health care services with teenagers among the highest at risk for suicide contemplation.

A Treasure Valley mom who chose to remain anonymous, as to not identify her daughter, shared her family's story with Six On Your Side. She notes that warning signs of anxiety and depression were missed as early as the third grade when the girl's teacher reported back the youngster had troubles managing her emotions.

Growing up, it didn't get any easier for her. Eventually, the 16-year-old entered Intermountain Hospital after her therapist said she had an active suicide plan.

Doctors at the hospital discovered the teenager also had Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.

The mother says: "When you combine ADHD with anxiety and depression, it's like depression on overdrive."

Experts say a red flag should go up for parents if their child withdrawals from their friends and social activities, has trouble meeting responsibilities at home or school or if there is a change in their sleeping or eating habits.

Licensed Counselor Rick Boyes has this advice for parents: "Every child will have periods of being mad at the world... cranky, irritable, withdrawn, not wanting to participate in family activities, etc. But, usually these things are transient, they last a day or so. These things last for a period of say approximately two weeks or longer then it's time to take a deeper look at that."

At a young age, parents are advised to encourage their children to express their emotions, even if it means being sad and crying.

Our Treasure Valley mom found that little things like regular exercise and showing up on time to appointments helped get her daughter back on track. Still, she notes: "Mental health is an ongoing battle, I don't think it ever really ends. It's something you have to be diligent and she herself has to be diligent in her behavior. You can't just throw medication at the problem."

The mother is an advocate of having a long-term, residential care facility for suicidal teens in Ada County, and she's not the only one.

With recent talk of opening a third 24-hour crisis center in Idaho, State Representative Melissa Wintrow, of Boise, says Ada County is in need due to its ever-growing population.

With a higher education background, Wintrow says universities are seeing an increased need for student support services. She believes the earlier the intervention, the better. Wintrow says it's a problem she thinks could partly be solved by adding more school counselors in Idaho at every level of education.

"We need to ascertain and access what brought them there and continue to work to make sure they're feeling good and in the long-term... and to assist with challenges in the long-term. Many of us face them," Wintrow says.

Dr. Boyce says the SPAN hotline is not just for emergencies but that it's also a great source for referrals to helpful programs and resources. That number is 1-800-273-TALK.

If you don't have the cash for counseling, there are free and reduced programs out there such as this one: