What is the number of that suicide prevention hotline?
Let’s see … it’s 1-800 (something, something) TALK. Or, maybe it’s HELP. It could be a 208 area code. It’s awfully confusing, especially for someone on the brink of suicide who is of no mind to do a Google search.
For the record, the national hotline number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Calls there will be forwarded to the Idaho hotline at (208) 398-4357.
Hopefully soon, there will be a much easier number to remember – 611. Rep. Caroline Troy of Genesee and Sen. Fred Martin of Boise sponsored a resolution to back a national effort for a 611 suicide prevention hotline.
It’s too bad that a 611 hotline number was not in place 14 years ago when one of the best friends I ever had, Larry Watson, took his own life. Maybe he would have called it before putting a gun to his head.
Larry was my best boyhood friend while growing up in the 1960s. While in his backyard, we’d pretend to play baseball and football games at the highest levels. Mickey Mantle and Johnny Unitas were stars of that era, but they had nothing over us.
We went our separate ways. I moved to Coeur d’Alene and later began pursuing a newspaper career. Larry stayed in the Wallace area, worked in county government and eventually was elected as a state representative. Later, he was appointed to the state tax commission. Larry was one guy, perhaps one of the few, who didn’t have a string of enemies during his years in politics. He was a Democrat who had respect from Republicans – enough to earn the governor’s appointment to the tax commission.
We reunited after I moved to Boise in 1999 to work with the Idaho Statesman, and it took no time to renew our friendship. When I was in the hospital in 2004 recovering from heart bypass surgery (just a few months before his death), I had this sudden craving for Cheez-It crackers. I called Larry, and he went out of his way to smuggle in a box of Cheez-Its.
Now, that’s what I call “friendship.”
A few months later, Larry was not appointed to another term on the tax commission and his life spiraled downward. I played golf with him about a week before his death, telling him that as a former tax commissioner, he could write his ticket for any number of companies. If he didn’t want to go that route, he had enough political connections to do lobbying work.
Sadly, Larry didn’t listen … and I lost a brother. I have been racking my brain ever since, thinking about what I might have done or said to make a difference in his final days.
Troy and Martin, who are members of Idaho’s Suicide Prevention Council, have had similar experiences with suicide. Troy told me about a 15-year-old daughter of a friend who took her life, without showing signs of depression. Troy lives in an agricultural community where people see up-and-down years. When it’s down, it’s a struggle for families to make ends meet.
“There are 55-year-old white males in agriculture or logging, and they typically don’t ask for help,” she said. “If people get to the point of not being able to care for their family, that’s very difficult. It’s not part of our culture. We have that pioneer spirit where we take care of ourselves, our families and our communities.”
Martin said one of his best friends in high school ended up taking his life. “I found out he was not doing well financially or emotionally and he decided that was the only way.”
Martin had no hesitation teaming with Troy on the 611 resolution.
“Not everything we do in the Legislature is a matter of life or death, but this one is. We have 30 Idahoans each month who are taking their lives by suicide,” Martin said. “I used to think it was taboo to talk about suicide, but now I think it’s critical to talk openly about it.”
Troy and Martin say they have learned a great deal from their time on the council, but are a long way from having the answers. But by backing the effort to create a 611 hotline, they did one big thing they could do as legislators.
It was at least one of the actions that made sense during this session.
Chuck Malloy, a long-time Idaho journalist, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.