Battling the stigma of suicide

Published: Wednesday, April 24 2013 9:40 p.m. MDT

"You know they're sad, different, that something is going on, but you think they're going to snap out of it," Brown said.

The night before the suicide, Brown talked to Einfeldt on the phone and her sister apologized for things Brown didn't even remember happening. Her brother said he had a similar conversation.

"We didn't put things together that she was trying to make things right, but she didn't need to," Brown said. "She was as perfect as they came."

Solutions

Greg Hudnall, associate superintendent with Provo School District and executive director of the Utah County Hope Task Force, remembers the phone call he received from police asking him to identify the body of a student believed to have committed suicide. He went and made the identification. Then came the vomiting and then the sobbing. He started to investigate suicide in Utah and decided to organize a lunch to discuss suicide prevention.

He called therapists, law enforcement, medical professionals, community leaders.

"I sent out 40 invitations and 42 people showed up," Hudnall recalled. "They were as concerned as I was, because everyone was being effected by suicide."

In 1999, the HOPE task force was formed. The acronym stands for "Hold on, persuade, empower," but what it represents is a committed group of people who decided suicide would no longer be tolerated in their community.

There are community support groups that meet monthly, an annual suicide conference and suicide prevention walk and peer-to-peer support groups in high schools and middle schools in the Provo School District.

Every teacher is trained in prevention at the beginning of the school year and any student who mentions contemplating suicide and also has access to a method is taken to the hospital.

"It takes a lot of work and a lot of effort and you have to have individuals who become passionate about it," Hudnall said. "We have stayed true to it because we feel so strongly about it. We've made a commitment that we can't lose one more child and we have to do what we can to prevent that."

Between 1999 and 2005, Hudnall said the Provo School District averaged one to two suicides each year. Since 2005, there has not been a single suicide within the school system.

"We still have kids that threaten and still have kids that attempt and we get them immediate help and get them to the hospital," Hudnall said, noting there have been nine hospitalizations during the 2012-2013 school year and 15 to 20 suicide threats.

"We take every suicide threat seriously. We act immediately, contact the family and work with Intermountain Health Care to get them help and support."

He thinks the key to their success so far is the teamwork and partnership among those on the task force and in the community. But it's also the refusal to forget about the constant threat of suicide and commitment to keeping it as a focus.

Hudnall does trainings for Boy Scout leaders, has conducted trainings at LDS Churches and for the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City.

"On the one hand, I go to sleep at night worrying about that next child," Hudnall said. "There isn't a day that goes by that I don't get a phone call from someone begging for help. But I'm also so amazed at what we've accomplished."

Spreading the message

Providing information and support on suicide prevention to community coalitions is the goal of Kimberly Myers, who is the program manager of Prevention by Design for the National Alliance on Mental Illness — Utah. She said 90 percent of those who commit suicide have an underlying mental illness and that the data on suicide demanded action.

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