*Names have been changed for student privacy

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare reported in 2017 that Idaho has one of the highest suicides rates in the nation, at 57 percent above the national average. However, the National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that, despite these high statistics, Idaho consistently ranks among the lowest in the nation for behavioral health funding per capita.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare behavioral health administrator Ross Edmunds wrote a bill that could help lower these rates. Although the bill only adds a few words to the current legislation, Edmunds believes the results could be substantial in local communities.

This bill, House Bill 337, would add “prevention representation” to the state behavioral health board. Behavioral health, commonly referred to as mental health, is described by the National Alliance on Mental Illness as a mental health condition such as anxiety, bipolar disorder, chronic depression or substance use disorders.

This bill, which was introduced by the House Health and Welfare Committee, would create a board that will “serve as an advocate for children and adults with behavioral health disorders,” according to the bill.

The bill also states that the board includes various members of the community, including licensed mental health specialists, a police officer and one “parent of a child with a serious emotional disturbance.”

The newest addition to that board is one prevention specialist, whose responsibility is to advocate prevention of behavioral health disorders, according to Edmunds.

Edmunds said that the board is organized around helping those with behavioral health issues and that such organization and communication can help prevent suicide.

“It is going to help suicide prevention,” Edmunds said. “Any amount of (community collaboration) that we can do will benefit our state and certainly have some impact on suicide.”

Edmunds said that, although this change in legislation is not the final answer to suicide, the board is designed to help at-risk community members.

Sometimes behavioral health disorders can create dangerous situations, putting oneself or others in physical or legal danger. These situations are known as behavioral health crises, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

One in every five Americans reportedly lives with a temporary behavioral health disorder and one in every 25 suffers chronically, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

One student shared her experience with a behavioral health disorder.

Kelsey Smith* was a college student in Southeast Idaho who was facing a behavioral health crisis three years ago.

For Smith, this meant crippling panic attacks and living with constant fear. One day it all became too much to handle, and those around her were worried.

Concerned for both her mental and physical well being, one friend called the police to intervene. She spent the next 24 hours alone in a cold and empty hospital room. When her parents picked her up and sought further help, Smith lamented the “lack of comfortable assistance” for those facing behavioral health crises.

The new bill is working not just to help those with behavioral health disorders, but also to prevent crises like Smith’s. House Bill 337 would require behavior health boards to include prevention representation.

“People with behavioral health disorders, we don’t accept them, we don’t help them, treat them like neighbors and do what we can for them,” Edmunds said. He said that increasing the help available for those with behavioral health disorders is his life’s work.

The BYU-Idaho Student Health Center is also taking measures to prevent behavioral health crises on campus.

“We have access to two suicide hotlines, and we have an on-call therapist as well,” said Reed Stoddard, a counselor at BYU-I.

Stoddard said those who are in a crisis should reach out to someone for help.

“Either reach out to parents or the bishop or an employee on campus,” Stoddard said.

House Bill 337 is not the first thing that the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare has done to help those suffering with behavioral health disorders. This same bill was proposed in 2017 but did not pass.

In 2014, the department built three behavioral health crisis centers across Idaho, making this bill one of many things it has done to help those with behavioral health disorders.

House Bill 337 passed the Idaho State House in a 54 to 16 vote. It is now in its second reading in the Idaho State Senate.

You can listen to Anna Heeder’s interview about this article with BYU-I Radio here.