'This is everybody’s business.' April suicides highlight mental health needs for Teton Valley - East Idaho News

‘This is everybody’s business.’ April suicides highlight mental health needs for Teton Valley

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DRIGGS — It was Easter Sunday when the Teton County Sheriff’s Office spotted a car driving through Driggs that had been tagged as a welfare check. The deputy proceeded to pull the out-of-state vehicle over behind the Standard Plumbing store north of Driggs along Idaho Highway 33.

Mitch Golden, spokesman for the sheriff’s office, said the 58-year-old man got out of his vehicle with a gun in hand. The deputy repeatedly asked the man to put down his gun, but the man ended up shooting himself and dying from the self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Last week, there was the second suicide in Teton Valley, bringing the count to four deaths attributed to suicide this year for the small, rural county tucked into the Tetons. In March, the sheriff’s office, working with Fremont County, managed another suicidal death near Ashton after pursuing a Victor resident in an 80 mph car chase across the dry farms north of Teton Valley.

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Last year, the county of 12,000 had seven people who died by suicide, according to the Teton County Sheriff’s Office. Although the Fremont County death doesn’t count toward Teton County’s overall number, the weight of these deaths is growing.

“There are these trends that do occur, and everyone asks why,” Golden said. “It’s a myriad of factors. We are a remote community with long stretches of winter, depression becomes a problem and then there is always a concern over the lack of resources.”

In 2019 the Idaho Suicide Prevention Plan was launched by three statewide agencies. According to the coalition, Idaho remains among the top 10 states for death by suicide per capita in the United States.

In 2018 the per capita rate hit 23 per 100,000 people in Idaho, where that rate has remained, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC says in Idaho, men aged 25 to 44 are most likely to die by suicide, with firearms ranking as the number one cause of death. As of 2020, Wyoming logged 30 per 100,000 people who died by suicide, the highest in the nation. The U.S. rate per capita is 13.

“Everybody wants to know why,” said Sara White, the executive director for the Teton Valley Mental Health Coalition and a licensed mental health clinician. “Why did this happen? It’s so complicated. It’s hard to come up with one reason why.”

White has been at the nonprofit’s helm for the last two years and has worked to refocus the organization on providing community resources around mental health needs and suicide-prevention training.

“There are a lot of myths out there as to who is most at risk,” said White. “Sometimes, there are a lot of things that we miss.”

The public afterschool program, ABC’s, was recently awarded a $5,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Teton Valley and will partner with the Mental Health Coalition to introduce social and emotional curriculum. The hope, said White, is to eventually work with local teachers to offer the same kind of mental health training. According to a recent report produced by the Wyoming Community Foundation, Idaho is among a handful of states including Colorado, Wyoming, Florida, Minnesota, Oregon and Washington that does not provide a Youth Risk Behavior Survey to students.

White said the Mental Health Coalition offers free QPR Certification, which is a suicide-counseling service and mental health first aid course. That training is available to any organization, government agency or church group in the valley. The Mental Health Coalition also received a $3,000 grant from the Community Foundation to produce a resource pamphlet for the community.

“This is everybody’s business,” White said of working together as a community. “We should know basic mental health first aid, and that takes all of us working together. We are a rural community. It’s so important that we know these skills.”

She added that while having foundation mental health aid training is important on an individual level, she said working at higher levels in the community within public systems is, “more complicated.”

“How do the systems in our county work together and connect people better to services? There are other community models out there that we can use and replicate to make sure people are not falling.

“That’s one of the hardest things about suicide prevention, is asking how do we talk about it in a way that helps people feel more comfortable or at ease with this topic,” she continued. “COVID, the economy, a long winter, job and housing insecurities — these are all perfect storms that create the environment that puts us all at risk. How did you get good at skiing or fishing? It’s practice. We want these magical answers, but we need to practice mental health aid.”

In addition to the resources listed below, in Teton Valley, Idaho, local mental health resources are available through the Teton Valley Mental Health Coalition at (208) 354-6198. The coalition is not a direct provider. If you are in crisis, call 911.