By Elizabeth Carlston
With the recent suicide of a Copper Hills High School sophomore in West Jordan, Salt Lake County, some Provo community members felt an urgency to discuss suicide prevention at a Town Hall meeting Thursday Jan. 30.
“We have come here to talk about a topic that is heavy,” Provo Mayor Lewis Billings said. “Suicide is never an option. Life is always the answer.”
Utah ranks tenth in the nation in the rate of completed suicides, where suicide is the leading cause of death for males aged 15-44. The Provo School district has had 10 suicide completions in the last five years, with elementary students among the victims.
A panel of community mental health, school, and clergy professionals answered audience questions and provided information for support services available.
“Our goal is to educate every citizen in this valley about suicide, the warning signs and where to go for help,” said Greg Hudnall, Provo School District director of student services. “This is not a school problem, this is a community problem. The only way we are going to make a difference is to combine our time, our talents and our resources to reach out to every young person who believes suicide is an option.”
BYU professor Gwain Wells identified four risk factors and signs of a person who may be considering suicide: mental illness, feeling of isolation, having had a parent or close relative commit suicide, and impulsiveness.
“They may be agitated, upset, searching for solutions and not be able to find any until you come to that one and it feels like the only one,” Gwain said.
Chaplain Dean Jackson of the Provo police department compared suicide to getting trapped in a corner.
“The further they get in the corner, the less options they have. Our job isn”t to get them out of the corner, but to stop them for a moment so they can realize what they are doing,” Jackson said.
“We need a community that really cares,” Wells said. “We need people who will say, how are you? Fine. No, how are you really? … You seem kind of down, let”s talk about it.”
In collaboration with community professionals the Provo City School District established the suicide prevention task force HOPE. It stands for Hold On, Persuade, Escape.
There are several signs to look for in a person who may be contemplating suicide. Feelings of hopelessness, low self-esteem, a loss of any kind, or drastic change in behavior are all red flags according to HOPE brochure.
Students with friends who may be contemplating suicide must tell someone they trust, Hubnall said. There have been too many occasions when someone “knew about it, but did not tell someone else,” he said.
Some may feel they will betray a friend”s trust if they seek outside help, but such is not the case, Hudnall said.
“It is short term pain, but long term gain,” he said.
Task force member Dr. Kenneth Tuttle said the suicide prevention program will “reduce the incidence of teen suicide through education and awareness, build better support networks for at risk teens, and get professional help for those in crisis.”
The Provo City task force plans to fight suicide by educating the community. A portable display booth will be placed at major community events. In addition to other support services, the task force has organized a community suicide conference Apr. 12, to be hosted by BYU.
“We want to support in any way we can,” said, Brad Farnsworth, administrative vice president at BYU. “We can share our resources with the community. If we focus on the doctrine of the gospel, that will always be a core solution to these things.”