Utah’s suicide rate steady amid ongoing educational efforts

By Tansi Propst, Park Record

September 13, 2016

There is hope.

The pain will subside.

Don’t seek a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

You matter.

These are just a few of the messages that the Utah and Summit County Health Departments want to emphasize throughout September, also known as Suicide Prevention Month. World Suicide Prevention Day was Sept. 10.

While Utah boasts some of the most breathtaking landscapes in the country, the state also holds a darker secret. Along with several other Rocky Mountain States, Utah has consistently held a spot in the top 10 for overall suicide rates, according to Andrea Hood, suicide-prevention coordinator with the state health department.

“I think we have known for a long time that Utah has a higher risk and higher rates and of course it is something that should be on our minds,” Hood said in an interview with The Park Record. “It’s a great state that we love, but how can we step up and be good neighbors and community members and how can we address this. No one is immune to it. It is actually fairly common to have these thoughts, but much less common to act on those thoughts.”

Last week, the health department released a new report that shows Utah is still No. 7 in the nation for overall suicides. According to the report, an average of two Utahns die from suicide every day and 12 more are hospitalized or treated for injuries from an attempt. In 2014, 555 Utahns died from suicide compared with 570 in 2013. However, preliminary data suggests that the number of suicides for 2015 will exceed 600.

One especially alarming statistic Hood highlighted is that firearms are responsible for more than half of all suicides in the state. Hood said the health department is currently working on increasing educational efforts surrounding firearm safety.

“We’ve released some public service announcements and short videos that we can put into gun retail outlets and other types of media to educate people,” Hood said. “It is a similar topic to holding onto a friend’s keys if they are drunk. If a friend or someone you know is going through a mental health crisis or divorce, you could offer to hold on to their guns just as you would hold onto the keys of a drunk driver.”

As the health department continues to work on a comprehensive plan to address factors that contribute to suicide, the state’s plan will also include ways to address youth suicides. Hood said the report shows an overall increase in youth suicides, before adding that it is still a “relatively low number, but we are concerned about that and we are aware of it.”

She said an evidence-based suicide training model will be introduced in the state for the first time in the hopes of reducing suicide ideation. She added that the state has also agreed to donate $500 to schools to implement a prevention program.

“The other things that we are working on is the zero suicide initiative, which encourages people to get out, get help and get care,” Hood said. “We are just trying to get the best care and providers out there as possible, while changing policies and procedures on how to deal with this.

“The most important part is for people to realize that this is a problem in Utah and it could be affecting your family and your friends and your neighbors,” Hood said.

Alyssa Mitchell, a health educator with the Summit County Health Department, said the Summit County Health Department formed a Suicide Coalition nearly two years ago with representatives from school districts, Valley Behavioral Health and the community at large. One of the group’s main goals right now is the Question, Persuade and Refer program, also known as QPR.

Mitchell said more than 900 students have been reached through the QPR training throughout the various school districts.

“It’s an unfortunate growing trend and here in Summit County we tend to be right with the rest of the state,” Mitchell said. “We are about 16.4 per population of 100,000 people, which is not far off of the state’s 20, and firearms deaths are particularly high here.

“We have recognized that there is a problem for a couple of years now,” Mitchell said. “We are trying to implement some programs to see if we can start getting that number to go down and we just received the mental health survey so hopefully from the data that we get it will help us improve our efforts as well.”

For a copy of the Suicide in Utah report visit http://www.health.utah.gov/vipp. For more information on suicide prevention visit http://utahsuicideprevention.org or call the Statewide CrisisLine at 801-587-3000 or the National Suicide Prevention LifeLine at 1-800-273-TALK.

Photo from right, Jacob Dolph, Matt and Megan Provost, among others, hold signs along Park Ave. near Jans Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016. The group waved to passing cars, encouraging them to honk if they're happy and to smile.

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