Push for solutions underway to Utah's suicide problem

Published: Saturday, June 15 2013 3:24 p.m. MDT

Suicide prevention efforts are about to take a giant step toward solving one of Utah's crushing problems.

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SALT LAKE CITY — The number of suicides in Utah are running apace with the number of similar deaths from the same time last year. But suicide prevention efforts are about to take a giant step toward solving one of Utah's crushing problems.

According to data from the Utah Office of the Medical Examiner, 220 deaths were classified as suicides between Jan. 1 and May 31, a number that could increase as the cause of death in pending cases is determined.

During the same period in 2012, a total of 231 deaths were certified as suicides, according to the Utah Medical Examiner's Office. That keeps Utah on pace to match the data showing 562 suicides statewide in 2012. And it means suicide will again be a leading cause of death for teens and adults unless something changes.

Now both The Department of Human Services and the State Office of Education are appointing coordinators to directly attack the problem. And a third private effort will begin under the leadership of an educator who has helped bridge the gap between homes, schools and the resources available to help families prevent and understand factors that can lead to suicide.

New leadership

The Department of Human Services has hired a suicide prevention coordinator, as directed by legislative action during the 2013 session, to implement and oversee suicide prevention programs across the state.

Kimberly Myers, who most recently managed the prevention by design program for the National Alliance on Mental Illness — Utah, now is part of the state's search for solutions.

"This position is so beneficial and comes at a very timely time in Utah history," Rick Hendy, program administrator of adult mental health for the state Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, said. "There's always been a concern there, but I think we have a clear path of things we can be encouraging and promoting in our communities."

Myers will coordinate programs and help communities across the state find the suicide prevention and intervention resources available to them. The department is also working on programs to help the public recognize when someone is at risk. That includes a strategy to train Utahns on "QPR," — question, persuade and refer — teaching as many as will listen how to identify someone in need of help and referring those in need to people and programs that will help them through crises.

Specific suicide trainings are also planned for those in the behavioral health industry, medical professionals as well as first responders. These programs, coupled with an increased awareness and diligence in the home, workplace and community, will lead to change, Hendy said.

"We're convinced that we will save lives."

Homes and schools

The suicide prevention coordinator position at the Utah State Office of Education is currently open and in the hiring process, according to deputy superintendent Brenda Hales. But the office hasn't halted its efforts in the meantime.

"We had a counselor conference the last two days and it's been a topic for the counselors," Hales said last week. "We're not waiting. … When the money is available on July 1, we can hire someone, but in the meantime we're off and running."

She said the state office's coordinator will tackle suicide prevention and intervention by working with other staff who work on bullying and cyberbullying, but will also look at the issue from three different angles: parents, teachers and students.

There will be efforts to help parents and teachers identify signs of depression and suicidal thoughts and triggers as well as informing students about consequences and triggers, all of which will be overseen by the office's suicide prevention coordinator.

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