In three steps, help is on the way

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When you look at the faces of the hundreds of supporters in Coeur d’Alene’s suicide prevention walk each year, you see pain, you see support, you see hope.

That’s essentially the theme of a three-part series The Press will publish, starting tomorrow. The series was created by Panhandle Health District, whose leader, Lora Whalen, also serves as chair of the Suicide Prevention Action Network of North Idaho (SPAN).

A lot of thought, research and work went into the series.

“Our network has been tracking data in North Idaho, specifically Kootenai County, on completed suicides, emergency department visits, calls to the crisis center and more and discussing how it would be best to let the public know this information,” said Katherine Hoyer, Panhandle’s public information officer. “These articles have been vetted by mental health professionals and include stories of survivors.”

Pointing always toward the hope that blossoms in Part 3, the series opens with a devastating number: 42. That’s how many Kootenai County residents died by suicide last year.

But suicide always goes beyond numbers. Has anyone not been scarred by the self-inflicted death of a loved one? Karen Petit has. But rather than internalize the pain, Karen reached out. After losing her brother 16 years ago, she began a survivor support group that continues to bring light and warmth to those in need. You’ll learn more about Karen and her efforts in Part 2.

Ninety percent of people who die by suicide have a mental health disorder at the time of their deaths, a statistic that could be overwhelming but for the fact that mental health disorders are generally treatable. Help those with mental health issues get past the stigma of asking for help and we can significantly reduce suicides, Claudia Miewald, Kootenai Health’s director of behavioral health services, tells us in Part 3.

As spring in North Idaho leads into glorious summer, we understand that there are more pleasant issues to focus on than suicide. But because suicide is largely preventable, we’re not sure any other issue is more important to understand and become better equipped to address.

The Press extends its thanks to Lora, Katherine, Karen, Claudia and the many, many others on the front lines of this effort. It’s our hope that the three-part series will not just improve lives, but save some.

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