Utah youth suicide task force demands immediate action

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Rick Bowmer
Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, holds a gun lock during a news conference at the Utah State Capitol, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018, in Salt Lake City. A new task force created to slow the troubling rise of teen suicides in Utah is recommending officials ratchet up public messaging to implore gun-owing parents to keep firearms locked up. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s youth suicide task force is demanding immediate action against Utah’s staggeringly high suicide rate.

According to Utah’s Public Health Data Source, Utah’s suicide rate is consistently higher than the national rate. Suicide is the leading cause of death for Utahns ages 10–24, and one person is estimated to die by suicide every 14 hours in Utah.

Rick Bowmer
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert speaks during a news conference at the Utah state Capitol, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018, in Salt Lake City. A new task force created to try and slow a troubling rise of teen suicides in Utah is recommending that officials ratchet up public messaging to implore gun-owing parents to keep firearms locked up. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

The task force — made up of activists, mental health workers and political and religious leaders — gathered at the Utah Capitol Tuesday for a news conference on the issue.

At the conference, Sen. Orin Hatch, R-Utah, said youth suicide is one of the most critical issues facing the state.

“There is no perfect solution, but there are a lot of things that we can do to save lives, and one of the most important things is to remind these young people, these kids, how much they matter, how much we love them, how much they mean to all of us,” Hatch said.

Over the past couple of weeks, the task force looked at evidence-based practices and programs focused on immediate solutions. The task force also looked for ways to get more funding to these programs so they can be scaled to impact a greater number of lives across the state.

According to Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, the task force’s major objectives are improving crisis response, reducing risk factors and enhancing protective factors.

“No one wants to end their life,” Cox said. “They want to end the pain, and we can’t end the pain if we don’t talk about the pain. So we are going to talk about the pain more and we are going to have these conversations that we think are going to be hard.”

Cox said these conversations aren’t as hard as people think and that having them will save lives.

Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, said the public needs to understand mental illness is just as real of a health issue as a broken bone or asthma.

“We don’t blame people for those diseases and we shouldn’t blame people for mental illness,” Eliason said. “We need to ask, ‘How can we help?’”

The task force’s report encourages more be done to improve Utah’s crisis response. It plans on doing this by expanding the reach of mobile crisis lines, providing every higher education institution with the SafeUT app, using public messaging to start the conversation about mental health and encouraging health care systems to train workers to adopt a zero-suicide framework.

The report also recommends using peer-to-peer intervention programs in which students are trained to refer their peers who may be struggling with suicidal thoughts to school counselors.

Eliason said parents could also reduce their child’s chance of dying by suicide by about 50 percent if they use a trigger cable lock or a gun safe to keep their firearms locked away.

“Every child we’ve lost this year in the state of Utah died by a firearm. If it had been secured, we may have had a different outcome,” Eliason said.

Gov. Gary Herbert said over 40,000 gun locks have been distributed, which is a step in the right direction.

“All these things working together will help. It is a good start, but it is just a start,” Herbert said.

Herbert also said LGBTQ individuals are at a higher risk of committing suicide, and it is imperative to reach out to them.

“One of the successes of Utah is our ability to come together despite some differences of opinion of maybe politics and policies out there,” Herbert said. “Let’s come together shoulder to shoulder — no credit, no blame.”

Taryn Hiatt, Utah’s area director for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said she knows the emotional pain that comes with feeling like everyone would be better off without her, but she made it through.

“I beg of you right now, if you are thinking of suicide, please find someone you can tell, and tell as many people as you have to until someone takes you serious and connects you to the support you need, because we need you,” Hiatt said.

Call 1-800-273-TALK at anytime to speak with the Utah state crisis line.

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