This editorial was published by the Idaho Press of Nampa.
Most of us are tired of hearing the phrase “unprecedented challenges” or any of its other iterations that have been repeated frequently since March 2020. But sadly, the challenges that many Americans, including residents of Idaho, are facing have no precedent, and they are taking a ringing.
To address this toll, we strongly encourage local authorities – federal, state, county and city – to prioritize mental health. This means funding early prevention in addition to providing resources for those who reach crisis point.
A 2021 report from Mental Health in America ranked Idaho 50 out of 51 in prevalence of mental illness relative to access to care.
Idaho was also ranked 50th in prevalence of mental illness among young people. Putting more social workers in schools would give students, who have lived through tumultuous years, at least a first line of defense before reaching a breaking point.
The Boise Public Library System has taken an important step by adding a mental health coordinator position to help navigate complex social systems. At a recent city council meeting, the library manager told the council that calls to the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline have increased over the past year and health needs mental illness were not satisfied due to the lack of available facilities and providers.
Resources must be dedicated to the people who provide these vital services. A 2019 report from the Idaho Behavioral Health Alliance found the state had a “critical shortage” of behavioral health workers.
Funding for more programs and increasing staff for those programs begins at the federal and state levels, but it is up to cities and counties to champion those programs and distribute the money in the best way.
Legislators often focus on infrastructure, taxes and economic issues – all of which are important – but we cannot forget the well-being of our residents when considering key legislative priorities.
Attention and funding must be focused on upstream solutions, which will also ease the burden on police and prison systems. People who are experiencing a mental health crisis should not end up incarcerated or in emergency rooms, where treating them costs much more and is not designed to adequately meet their needs.
As Idahoans, we also have a responsibility to create an environment where our family, friends, and neighbors feel empowered to seek help when needed, without stigma. For example, veterans, many of whom have post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, have a number of resources at their disposal, but the stigma of looking “broken” can often get in their way.
If you need help, please ask.
The Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline can be reached by calling or texting at (208) 398-4357.
The Pathways Southwest Idaho Community Crisis Center is located at 7192 Potomac Drive, Boise, and can be reached at (833) 527-4747.