Benewah County residents will get access to new resources for suicide prevention and mental health in 2020, thanks to a push by community figures.

A local group is banding together to provide more resources to prevent suicide. The effort, which includes area health organizations, community members and suicide survivors, seeks to create the Benewah County Suicide Prevention and Awareness Network, or SPAN, to give rural residents more options for mental health care.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, with 47,173 recorded by the CDC in 2017. Idaho reported the 5th-highest suicide rate in the nation, reporting 392 deaths in that year – roughly 23 people out every 100,000 residents.

“We know that the suicide rate in Idaho is twice what it is in the rest of the U.S., and it’s exponentially higher in Benewah County,” Kristi Scott, a development officer with the Idaho Community Foundation, said. “We’ve lost a lot of good people in this community, and there is very little in the way of resources or support in the area.”

Ms. Scott said that the tragic losses of several former residents of northern Idaho, including former Benewah County residents Cody Edwards and Troy Schueller, prompted a renewed drive to improve suicide prevention resources in the area. She and counterpart Tracy Morrissey, a behavioral health therapist with Benwah Community Hospital, reached out to a variety of organizations in the area to discuss options.

The response to the call was strong, with representatives meeting monthly to determine the next steps. Organizations involved include Benewah Community Hospital, Marimn Health in Plummer, Heritage Health, the St. Maries Joint School District, St. Maries Ambulance and Benewah County Coroner’s Office.

“Our monthly meetings have seen roughly eighteen members every time,” Ms. Scott said. “We’ve also reached out to survivors and families of survivors who have agreed to provide what help they can for others.”

In addition to local organizations, Ms. Morrissey said the group has been in contact with other groups around the state seeking support. She said they have received interest from suicide awareness groups in Kootenai County, as well as support from State Senator David Nelson.

“There are groups we’ve been working with in Coeur d’Alene who have really just been waiting to come here, but haven’t been sure where to start,” she said. “It’s amazing how people in this community, both local and in the state, can come together for this.”

The group plans to accelerate preparations for the SPAN network in 2020, with a focus on building infrastructure, training local resources, and communicating to the public what resources are available for area residents and suicide survivors.

“There’s two major parts to what we’re trying to do,” Ms. Scott said. “Bring in organizations from the community or around the area to start putting together resources for people; and to raise awareness and really start to release the stigma against mental health. It’s okay to ask for help.”

The group intends to hold monthly meetings throughout the next year to organize support efforts, as well as to direct fundraising and grant-writing to support the organization.

For more information, or to provide input on the Benewah County SPAN, contact Tracy Morrissey at 1-859-489-1566 or Kristi Scott at 1-208-582-4556.

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