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Pay It Forward: Community Suicide Prevention

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The Suicide Prevention Action Network of Idaho or SPAN dissolved as of Feb. 28, 2019. But the local chapter sees such an ongoing need, the members voted to keep a resource going by creating a new nonprofit organization in Eastern Idaho. It's called Community Suicide Prevention.

KIDK Eyewitness News 3 anchor Todd Kunz wanted to find out what they are doing because the group is so new and to Pay It Forward.

"Well it's dear to our hearts. I lost a son to suicide and so did Russ," said Sheila Murdock. She and Russ Wheatley are the chair and co-chair of the newly-formed Community Suicide Prevention group. Murdock has been working with the focus of suicide prevention for 15 years. Wheatley has been with the group since 2013. They have a lot of experience and see a big need for suicide prevention locally.

"The more you start to find out about it, it's touched more lives than you realize and people just don't talk about it because of the stigma," said Murdock.

"It used to be that stigma, that if you talk about it, it's going to happen and that's been proven to not be the case. And there is a need here. Idaho is consistently in the top 10, sometimes the top five, for death by suicide," said Wheatley.

Murdock said it doesn't matter whether male or female or a person's financial situation, religion, or job status. She cited numbers from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare showing suicide is the number two cause of death for the age group 15 to 35. When the age is increased to 45, suicide is seen more in men. Men in their 80s are also at a higher risk. Wheatley said Eastern Idaho sees those high numbers.

"I think the completed suicides in 2017, just in Bonneville County, there were 47. So there is a huge need. And then if you add Pocatello and the rest of the eastern side of the state, there are some pretty big numbers. And so we've got to impact that somehow, some way," said Wheatley.

The Community Suicide Prevention group promotes education and support groups, training, and community awareness. One of their big areas of focus is to teach people how to have resiliency and good coping skills. But as a friend or family member, what signs do you look for?

"Difficulty sleeping, depression, grades changing, isolating, you know, depression, anxiety-type symptoms, nightmares. Nightmares are a big thing to watch for. Of course, giving things away," said Murdock. She said if you have a concern about someone, start a conversation with them and listen.

"It does not give them the idea. And most of the time they will be honest with you. And it is such a relief to be able to talk about it. That's what's amazing. You can help diffuse a crisis just by sitting and listening. Asking the question and just being kind and listening," said Murdock.

The group covers from Rexburg to Pocatello, similar to health districts 6 and 7. They hold meetings for volunteers the first Thursday of every month at noon, upstairs in the medical office building on the west side of Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center, Room 205. More and more volunteers are showing up at the meetings, but they would love to have more.

"You can see the whole program growing and the good things that we're doing for the community. So that's kept us involved," said Wheatley.

Time to Pay it Forward.

"We have done a memorial walk each September for about 15 years and so because of that," said Murdock.

"Sheila, how are you? I'm Kory (Carling) and I'm with Mountain American Credit Union," a man said, walking up and interrupting the interview.

"Oh," questioned Murdock.

"And we're here today to because we've heard about all you're doing and all the lives you're impacting and we're here to recognize you and your organization," said Carling.

"Oh," said Murdock.

"And because of that, I'm here to Pay It Forward. So I've brought with me today, $500 that I know you can use to further impact the lives of our community and make even a bigger impact where we live," said Carling.

"Thank you. Oh my goodness," said Murdock.

"So on behalf of Mountain America Credit Union, we would like to Pay It Forward to you," said Carling, handing over an envelop of cash.

"That's awesome. Thank you so much," said Wheatley.

"Wow! Thank you. Thank you. You know what this does and this is the truth? This saves lives because the money provides for us to do training and get the word out and break down the stigma and when you talk about it, you save lives. So you just saved somebody's life," said Murdock, hugging Carling.

"Awesome," said Carling.

"Thank you, thank you, thank you," said Murdock.

"You betcha," said Carling.

"Oh my goodness. What a surprise. Here, you hold onto it. I'll drop it. I'm shaking," said Murdock, handing the envelope to Wheatley.

The Community Suicide Prevention group does have a Facebook page here. They are also in the process of developing a webpage.

The group holds a suicide loss support meeting the first Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. at the Idaho Falls Public Library. It is free to attend.

They also hold a couple fundraisers throughout the year that they can always use volunteers to help with:

These are a golf scramble June 8 and an awareness run/walk July 27. Plus, a memorial walk in September and a conference at the Idaho State University campus in Idaho Falls, also in September.

"Pay It Forward" airs the second Wednesday of every month. If you know of a nonprofit organization or someone who deserves to be recognized for their contributions to the area, click on "Pay It Forward" on the right side of our website and fill out the form, or send an email to KIDK Eyewitness News 3 anchor Todd Kunz at

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Todd Kunz

Todd is an anchor for Eyewitness News 3, Local News 8 and Fox 5.


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