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Clinics, law enforcement prioritize mental health amid 28% rise in suicide rates

Times-News - 1/30/2024

Jan. 30—×

Clinics and law enforcement are increasing mental health prioritization in the community after 27 suicides in the past year — not including two that happened this month.

Since 2022, suicide rates in the Magic Valley have increased by 28.57%, a large number of them being males in their early 20s.

Clinics and law enforcement across the valley are working together — some of which are providing free walk-ins through grants— to help prevent worsening mental health cases.

Lori Stewart, Twin Falls County's victim witness coordinator, and founder of the nonprofit Magic Valley Suicide Awareness and Prevention group, told the Times-News that the nonprofit has been working on putting together a "care package" for awhile now, in English and in Spanish, for when law enforcement gets incoming crisis calls.

Experiencing a mental health crisis?

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, Idaho's 988 suicide and crisis lifeline is free, confidential and staffed 24 hours by trained crisis responders who answer every call and text message. Dial 988.

"The care package will include a journal, a folder full of information on where you can get resources, a fidget spinner, a "worry" stone for anxiety, and bubbles," Stewart said. "The bubbles slow down your breath and change some of the neurological pathways with the breathing."

When law enforcement comes in contact with these people, they sometimes end up in a hospital or a crisis center, Stewart said. But most of the time, they're left at home.

The nonprofit hopes the care packages will help give them tools on where they can reach out.

"Law enforcement will be tentatively finalizing the care packages in the next two weeks and providing first batches to a few students from Canyon Ridge and Twin Falls High School," Stewart said.

Just as law enforcement and the nonprofit are stepping up to provide assistance, clinics in the area are also playing a vital role by allowing emerging mental health concerns seem more manageable — and affordable.

Crosspointe Family Services is promoting free mental health walk-ins from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays after receiving the Community Health Excellence grant from PacificSource.

The clinic will have a maximum of 10 slots each Tuesday and Thursday for walk-ins and will run until November of this year. Each person has a maximum of three sessions and are open to ages 14 and up.

Licensed Counselor Melissa Uhl and Licensed Clinical Social Worker Kristan French told the Times-News that at one point their clinic had a waitlist of 1,000 people, something that was commonly occurring across other clinics as well in the Magic Valley.

Their goal with the help of the grant is to provide assistance to community members at a more immediate rate. This will alleviate problems while they're still small, especially if those in need don't have the resources or time to commit to therapy.

French, however, clarified that these services are often used for situations when the client needs immediate guidance and don't need required long-term therapeutic intervention.

"It's not individual counseling," French said. "We're not able to replicate what you would get in intensive counseling. This is more geared toward a new problem or a pattern of behavior — a pattern of thinking or a symptom."

Uhl added that some people might have some anxiety or depression and just need a few skills that could take them a long way.

"Not everybody on those waitlists really need to be in therapy for a long duration of time," Uhl said. "So the single session, or up to three sessions usually, is what we can offer them to work on that one single problem."

If in 90 days a new problem pops up, however, patients can go back.

Aspen Grove Family Therapy is also providing free mental health walk-ins on Mondays and Wednesdays through a grant with the Magic Valley Suicide Awareness and Prevention.

Michael Whitehead, marriage and family therapist at the clinic, said each person has three or four sessions they can utilize to get help with new mental health challenges they may be facing.

Although their hours are currently tentative, Aspen Grove Family Therapy is trying to get people scheduled on Mondays and Wednesdays.

Magic Valley Suicide Awareness and Prevention essentially pays the fees for anybody who walks in, and anybody who walks in is eligible for those services, Whitehead said.

Experiencing a mental health crisis?

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, Idaho's 988 suicide and crisis lifeline is free, confidential and staffed 24 hours by trained crisis responders who answer every call and text message. Dial 988.

Neither clinics have licensed Spanish-speaking or bilingual providers but are working toward how they can get a grant to help the Hispanic community.

"I think long term, definitely one of the goals with the grant that we got was health equity," French said. "In writing our grant, we have been kind of tossing around ideas of, 'How do we include people from all populations?'

"Like the LGBTQ+ community, the Hispanic community. We don't have a full-time translator on staff right now. So we've been brainstorming ways we can make sure Spanish-speaking individuals have access to this health benefit."

The Hispanic community makes up more than 20% of the Magic Valley, many of whom can receive free therapy or counseling through their employments.

The state of Idaho contracts with BPA Health to provide the Employee Assistance Program. The program provides confidential, short-term counseling services for benefit eligible employees and their dependents up to the age of 26 to help handle their concerns.

Through the program, counseling is free of cost and allows patients to get services through chats, text, face-to-face, or video telehealth sessions. Many places such as the dairy farms and schools in the Magic Valley area provide these services to their employees.

Yet, the language barrier impedes them from recognizing that they have access to these advantages. The limited number of Hispanic social workers also interfere with effective communication.

Kristina Tapia, a licensed social worker, told the Times-News that many times, families will receive pamphlets and flyers on how children and adults can get help. But if it's not provided in Spanish, they're not going to understand it, let alone read it.

"There's also the cultural piece that's crucial," Tapia said. "A lot of the cultural things come out in therapy and this could be about family immigrating, Spanish artists that they like, Quinceañeras...

"Sometimes they'll throw some Spanish words in there too, and you have to be able to follow that so it's really important."

Tapia was raised in Burley and returned to the Magic Valley after getting bachelor and master degrees from Boise State University and Northwest Nazarene University in social work. She opened her own practice "Life Balance Counseling" after the COVID-19 pandemic but formerly worked at St. Luke's.

With her familiarity of the area, Tapia is aware of the limited number of Hispanic licensed social workers in the area, but believes the mental health conversations are positively shifting in general and within the Hispanic culture. This includes their interest in social work.

"I met with CSI not too long ago, with their students, and their social work program and there was a lot of Latino students — at least 75% of the class," Tapia said. "I'm hopeful in the next few years we have some more Latino therapists."

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Monica Carrillo-Casas is the Hispanic life and affairs reporter at the Times-News. Carrillo-Casas can be contacted at monica.carrillo-casas@magicvalley.com or at 208-735-3246.

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