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Suicide-Prone West Suffers From Stigma, Few Services

Image by the American Association of Suicidology
Image by the American Association of Suicidology

Idaho is releasing a new plan that seeks to combat the state's high rate of suicide. Idaho ranks sixth in the nation for suicide, according to the latest figures. Oregon's not far behind at number 12. It's part of a trend in the West, where the suicide rate is higher than the national average.

Alaska typically tops the list, followed by the Lower 48's intermountain states. Experts say, frankly, they're not sure why. But many have a hunch about the factors: isolation, depression-inducing climates, and lack of access to mental health services.

Ann Kirkwood is a researcher with the Idaho State University's Institute of Rural Health. She helped write the state's new suicide prevention plan.

Kirkwood says she sees another factor: what she calls a "cowboy up" culture that tends to stigmatize seeking help.

"And there have been some studies done that indicate stigma is even more accute in rural and frontier areas," she explains. "So, if you were in a small town and the coffee shop is across the street from the mental health clinic, the act of going in the mental health clinic would be stigmatized."

Kirkwood is working to get a suicide hotline office set up in Idaho, the only state without a line. Currently, calls Idahoans make to the national 1-800 hotline are directed to the Oregon Partnership in Portland.

On the Web:

American Association of Suicidology map

Idaho Suicide Prevention Plan

Copyright 2011 Northwest News Network

Copyright 2011 Northwest News Network

Inland Northwest Correspondent Jessica Robinson reports from the Northwest News Network's bureau in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. From the politics of wolves to mining regulation to small town gay rights movements, Jessica covers the economic, demographic and environmental trends that are shaping places east of the Cascades.