Breaking point: How one Utah community is winning the fight against suicide

Published: Saturday, April 26 2014 7:10 p.m. MDT

Nagle said Northern Utah-based Tanner Clinic and Intermountain Health Care didn't hesitate to come together to help. Rachel Keoppel, marketing specialist at Tanner Clinic, said it participated in a suicide prevention event at Syracuse High School and notified physicians in the Syracuse clinic to be aware of their patients and of the priority of prevention in the city.

It was not the first time the two health providers worked together on an event.

"It's about the people and it's about the community and as far as this was an important event (in the) community, that's what we're here to serve," Keoppel said. "There wasn't any competitive issue. It was, we're both here serving the community and we're both here to participate and to offer our services if we can."

She attributed the progress in Syracuse to its leaders not being afraid to recognize and tackle the problem.

"They weren't afraid to talk about it," Keoppel said. "They saw an issue in their community, and their leadership stepped up to the plate and talked about it and brought a change and the people in their communities who could make a change got involved."

Change didn't happen overnight. Call said police had long relied on mental health professionals or emergency rooms to help those in crisis situations. When students acted out, their parents were called and that was often the end of it. Now, while parents still get called, teachers, administrators and school resource officers are also trained and take additional measures to prevent suicide.

"I think we've done so much better at identifying warning signs and taking it seriously," Call said. "Now we take a very active role in every school, with any type of … gestures or comments where before law enforcement's reaction was oftentimes almost a Band-Aid — show up, make sure they were OK for the immediate moment, call parents, the parents would come pick them up and we would walk away and file a police report."

He said there also used to be "stereotypical behavior," where one student harassing another was dismissed as typical teenage behavior that was to be expected from adolescents.

"Today we don't look at it as typical," Call said. "We see the bullying, we see the harassment, and we learned from bad past experiences that those were sometimes the warning signs. … We need to give them a resource to get help if they need it."

Carrying on

In Syracuse, they know they can't let up.

"We are losing way too many people, and it's time for that to stop, because there is a ripple effect," Jones said. "When someone takes their life in a suicide it impacts their immediate family, their extended family, their friend group, their community, their church, you name it and on and on and on, there's this ripple like in a pond and they don't realize how many people that they touch."

So much good can be accomplished by just acknowledging that suicide is a real problem that must be addressed.

"I think it's so important that we break down the stigma around suicide … and start making it OK to ask for help and to give help. I think that Utah has a great opportunity right now to move forward and try and break down those barriers and make an impact through suicide prevention."

In Syracuse, Nagle said it was important that community leaders took the initiative to bring everyone together and pool the available resources. It wasn't until she asked that she realized how many were ready to respond.

On July 1, there were seven hope squads in schools across the state. Today, there are 55. Hudnall hopes to bring that number to 100 by August.

"With as many districts contacting us, I think we will be there," Hudnall said.

There was prevention-minded legislation passed in the last legislative session and the one before, including a bill that provided for two statewide suicide prevention coordinators.

"I anticipate and project that as the community and as our state has state initiatives for suicide prevention, as we start breaking down the barriers and getting the message out there, I think you are going to see the movement and momentum continue to go," Austad said. "As communities start getting involved and start bringing those elements together, I think were going to see a lot more communities coming together like Syracuse has been."

Where, as Nagle summarizes, "We have come full circle."

Email: emorgan@deseretnews.com, Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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