Let's talk about it

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An emotional John Goedde, a Republican Senator from Coeur d'Alene, address the crowd during the Save A Life Workshop Saturday at Lake City Community Church. Goedde lost a daughter to suicide.

COEUR d'ALENE - It can be a difficult, heart-aching topic, but even addressing it - just bringing it up - can be an important breakthrough.

Especially here, around Coeur d'Alene, where the suicide rate is the highest in Idaho, the state with the sixth highest rate nationally.

While it can be much easier to ignore the problem than talk about it, the only way those alarming statistics will reverse course is if people tackle the issue head on.

That means recognizing it, and discussing it.

"It doesn't have to be direct, it doesn't have to be threatening," said Raquel Kellicut, a therapist and grief counselor on reaching out to someone who may be having troubling thoughts. "It's expressing an interest in somebody."

Kellicut was one of several experts who talked about the issue at the Save A Life Workshop, the day-long seminar aimed at raising awareness and educating people how they can spot and deal with suicide in their day-to-day lives.

Reaching out to those who may be at risk, educating children about the topic earlier in school, and pooling resources to combat the problem are key in moving forward, they said. Around 100 people attended the seminar, put on by the Christian Community Coalition, at Lake City Community Church.

"Seventh and tenth (grade) is too little, too late," said Kelli Aiken, Lakes Magnet Middle school counselor, on when children in the Coeur d'Alene school district begin to learn about suicide and mental health. "I think we need to explore something for middle school students."

In 2011, 284 people committed suicide in Idaho, 45 in the Coeur d'Alene area.

Why, exactly, the Coeur d'Alene area has the highest rate in the state, research doesn't say. But added to those numbers are the national statistics that say 1 in every 10 single vehicle auto accidents is actually a suicide attempt and that 1 in every 10 students has at least thought about it, making the statistics even more alarming.

In 2010, Idaho had the sixth highest suicide rate in the country. The most recent annual statistics, meanwhile, show the Kootenai County Sheriff's Office responded to 146 suicide calls, 27 of which were attempts. Nine were successful attempts.

"Even nine successful is just too high," said sheriff-elect Ben Wolfinger.

Chris Lauri, pastor at Anthem Friends Church in Hayden, and one of the panelists during an afternoon question-and-answer session, said churches should be better trained in recognizing the problem rather than waiting to see if a member of the congregation offers the information voluntarily. It isn't the church's duty to judge what happens in the afterlife to suicide victims, but it should be the church's job to recognize someone in distress and help prevent it.

"We want to figure out where it started and nip it in the bud," he said.

Also important is acting quickly, the experts said. If a person suspects someone is having suicidal thoughts, make contact, don't wait a day. And don't assume suicide is reserved for a specific type of person either. It crosses all boundaries.

"Just because someone isn't mentally ill, doesn't mean they don't have serious problems," said Jeanna Paul, Crisis and Treatment Team clinical supervisor in Kootenai County.

Sen. John Goedde, a special guest at the seminar, lost a daughter to suicide.

It can be easy to dismiss suicide statistics as just numbers, he said, until it affects you directly.

"In 2004, one of those numbers was my daughter and every day that touches my heart," a choked-up Goedde told the crowd.

The issue won't go away unless people bring it from the shadows and shine a light on it, he said, and only way to do that is through education.

"The more people that know, the better off we'll be," he said.

Mike McCall, a social work student at Lewis-Clark State College, said the seminar put into perspective how important seemingly little acts of kindness, like caring and paying attention, can be for someone in a dark place.

At the same time McCall, who works with at risk youth outside of his studies, said he was surprised to learn Coeur d'Alene had the highest suicide rate in the state.

"I think if a lot of people knew that, it could create a lot of change," he said after the seminar. "I'm glad that it was a full room."

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