Printed on: December 03, 2012

Idaho Statesman: Sustaining the suicide hotline

Whatever the fallout - and it's usually nothing more serious than getting more junk in the mail - it certainly beats the alternative where every public document is treated as a state secret.

It was an milestone six years in the making. At 1 p.m. Monday, the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline went back online.

Reopening an in-state hotline - staffed by volunteers who know about local services - is the culmination of a long effort in coalition-building and fundraising.

In 2006, even before the Great Recession took a heavy toll on public  services across the state, Idaho's suicide prevention hotline was shut down due to a lack of funding. As it turned out, this worst outcome came at the worst possible time. In a state with historically high suicide rates, the downturn left many Idahoans without work and in despair - and left Idaho the only state without its own suicide hotline.

But while Idahoans' calls were outsourced to hotlines beyond the state's borders, a broad-based partnership worked diligently to rebuild an in-house safety net.

The Idaho Division of Veterans' Services signed on, since returning veterans and their families are among the groups at higher risk to suicide. So did the Speedy Foundation - named for Jeret "Speedy" Peterson, the Boise native and Olympic silver medal-winning skier who took his life in 2011. The 2012 Legislature approved $110,000 in seed money, the state Department of Health and Welfare added $175,000 and the United Way contributed $53,000.

The result: The hotline has full funding for two years.

Monday's reopening is an important step, but only a first step. At the outset, in-state volunteers will field calls only 32 hours a week, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. Hours will be added as more volunteers are trained.

Volunteers pledge a significant amount of time to their community.

They're expected to commit to at least one four- or 4 1/2-hour shift each week, for a year - and begin their volunteer work only after completing 24 hours of training and an eight-hour apprenticeship. These volunteers will be a key component in a sustainable hotline.

Long-term financial support is every bit as crucial.

When Idaho's suicide hotline closed six years ago, it represented not just a disservice to Idahoans but an embarrassment to the state.

Sometimes shame serves a purpose. It can motivate groups to work together - and open their wallets - to set things right.

But motivation has a way of being short-lived, supplanted by complacency.

Idaho must vow to never allow its suicide hotline to close again. That means Idahoans would be wise to remember the effort it took to bring it back.