Local mom makes prevention her passion after daughter’s suicide

Idaho suicide prevention group seeks board members, volunteers

By Sarah Glenn

POCATELLO – On a cold February day 16 months ago, Carmen Stanger found her teen daughter Maddie Beard dead in their home – the victim of suicide.

“I am constantly piecing together the events leading up to what happened – what could have prevented this,” Stanger said. “As a mom, you can’t help but look at every little piece.”

Today, Stanger has channelled her grief into action. Sunday, she led a group of local lobbyists to Washington D.C. where they are pushing for better suicide prevention and mental health resources for Idaho. Stanger is now a field advocate for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), working to form an Idaho chapter of the organization. She hopes that resource will be available to Idahoans by December. With chapters nationwide, the AFSP funds research, offers educational programs, advocates for public policy and provides support resources for those, like Stanger, who have been affected by suicide. Of the top six states with the highest suicide rates, Idaho is the only one without a chapter of the AFSP.

“Our goal is to reduce suicide by 20 percent by 2025,” Stanger said.

That means convincing more than 61 Idahoans per year that suicide is not their only way forward.

Idaho ranks sixth in the nation for deaths by suicide, according to the AFSP. In the past five years more than 1,488 Idaho residents died by suicide; that makes self-inflicted harm the eighth most likely cause of death in Idaho. More than half of these people used a handgun. The number of deaths ranged from a low of 284 in 2011 to a high of 308 in 2013; and those are just the people who successfully killed themselves. The Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline reported getting 2,869 calls the year Stanger’s daughter died. Of those calls, 147 people were about ready to complete the act.

In Idaho, suicides continue to climb. In three years, Idaho has climbed from eighth in the nation for suicides to number six; most of these people are teens and young adults.

“This is a race we don’t want to win,” Stanger said.

In an effort to curb this troubling trend, Stanger wants mental health resources readily available to any Idahoan in need. The Idaho chapter of the AFSP aims to have grassroots volunteers in every community overseen by a board of directors, who can also be from any part of the state. AFSP volunteers would then spearhead local conversations about mental health, push for mental health reforms and raise money for research among other various responsibilities. Stanger is also pushing legislators for increased research funding and to make suicide prevention training mandatory for teachers, health care professionals and in-home care providers.

“There’s a lot of work to do,” Stanger said. “The big thing to know is that this is something that we are not going to sweep under the rug. We will make sure people have the resources they need.”

With suicide prevention as her passion Stanger is keenly aware of the resources she wishes Idaho had, especially in the wake of her daughter’s death.

Maddie was a 16 year old student at Pocatello High School. According to friends and family, the lesbian girl with long blonde hair and a knack for athleticism was bullied because of her sexual orientation. On Feb. 18, 2014, Stanger came home to find her daughter dead. Maddie’s suicide rocked Pocatello High School and the surrounding community, causing many to both grieve and wonder what could have been done differently.

“We want to create en environment where kids are able to talk about their mental wellness just like they can talk about their physical wellness,” Stanger said. “We need more discussion, more education. If I would have known more, maybe I would have had the tools to help.”

In the months that have followed, Stanger has found her own way forward through the AFSP and advocacy work.

“We want people to have renewed hope, to know that there is a path forward,” Stanger said.

The AFSP is actively recruiting board members from across the state and is still looking for volunteers. Those interested can contact the group’s organizers through Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AFSPIdaho. For more information on the AFSP, visit, http://www.afsp.org/.

Idaho

Idaho’s Vital Statistics Suicide Report 

A timeline of Idaho mental health and suicide prevention reforms

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