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Hello Idaho: How to talk about suicide with your kids, family, or friends

The latest data from the CDC shows that Idaho ranks fifth in the U.S. for deaths by suicide. One doctor explains how to talk about it with loved ones.

BOISE, Idaho — Suicide is a difficult topic to discuss but is something we should all be aware of, especially during this time of social isolation.

The latest CDC data from 2018 shows that Idaho has the fifth-highest suicide rate in the United States. In 2018 alone, 417 Idahoans died by suicide.

“The relevance is very high,” Dr. Dennis Woody a senior clinical services consultant for Optum Idaho, said. “The activity level around trying to mitigate that suicide level is intense.”

Suicide is the result of a variety of different stressors, problems and limitations in a person’s ability to see a reasonable solution, according to Dr. Woody.

“You’re looking at people who are feeling as if they are hopeless in terms of any intervention that might make the situation they’re experiencing better,” Woody said. “Sadly, if you compound that with substance uses, impulsivity and tendency to do things that you might not otherwise do under other circumstances, suicide can be the result.”

Woody said the most devastating factor of suicide is that anyone can be affected, including teenagers. Parents of teens struggling with their mental health are encouraged to talk to their kids.

“Try to help the child understand that it is safe to talk about those sorts of feelings with you as their parent. In other words, opening up that communication line doesn’t mean that it increases the risk of the child actually trying to suicide,” Woody said. “That communication becomes a conduit and a resource for a child.”

It is also appropriate to pursue interventions, family counseling or psychotherapy if suicidal tendencies continue in your child’s life, according to Dr. Woody. But it all starts with a conversation.

“You don’t have to be a mental health professional to express compassion for someone and to let them know that you are caring and concerned about what you see,” Woody said. “Use open-ended questions that are non-confrontational and let the dialogue begin and just be prepared to listen carefully.”

If the person you love does not feel comfortable talking to you about their mental health, refer them to the 211 Idaho Careline, as sometimes it helps to talk to someone you do not know about mental health

For other mental health resources, visit KTVB’s Hello Idaho resources page.

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