Utah suicide rate leveling off, early data suggests

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The suicide rate in Utah leveled off in 2014 after a decade and a half of steady increase according to early data from the Utah Department of Human Services.

The suicide rate in Utah increased steadily from 1999 to 2013. Preliminary data shows that it might have leveled off in 2014. (Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health)
The suicide rate in Utah increased steadily from 1999 to 2013. Preliminary data shows that it might have leveled off in 2014. (Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health)

Doug Thomas, director of the Utah Divison of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, reported Wednesday to two state legislative interim committees. He said Utah’s suicide rates are still among the highest in the nation but appear to have remained consistent between 2013 and 2014.

“The 2014 official data is not available yet, but the preliminary numbers show that the rate of increase seems to have leveled off,” Thomas said. “Hopefully it will even be a little less than 2013.”

Thomas said his division has used money from the state legislature to form coalitions and fund suicide prevention, intervention and postvention efforts. He attributed the consistency for the 2014 rate to the division’s work with its coalitions.

“We have about 41 operating coalitions throughout the state that have taken on suicide prevention at the local level,” Thomas said. His hope is for local resources to be utilized in suicide prevention efforts.

These coalitions include health care providers and representatives from the National Guard and Hill Air Force Base, among others. Thomas said the division has taken this public health approach and worked hard for a simple reason.

“This is a public health issue and a preventable problem,” he said. “We’re working diligently to help those who are struggling with these types of issues.”

About 500 Utahns take their own lives each year, Thomas said, and middle-aged men are the demographic group with the highest suicide rate in the state.

“Suicide is the sixth leading cause of death for all Utahns,” Thomas said. “We currently rank fourth or fifth in the nation for suicide deaths.”

He gave the report Wednesday to the Education Interim Committee and Health and Human Services Interim Committee. These committees are comprised of state senators and representatives who meet during the legislature’s offseason.

Thomas’s full report (with statistics and graphs) is available online.

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