Lots of people are aware of numbers, but each one of those is a body that I see. I do think if people are aware of it and it is something that is within their horizons on an ongoing basis, you have a much better chance of galvanizing the kinds of actions that may help lead to a reduction in suicide. —Dr. Todd Grey
SALT LAKE CITY — Mark Hansen had seen the promotions for a news special on preventing suicide and said he knew he needed to watch with his wife and daughter.
He said the three of them sat down and watched KSL 5 News Thursday at 10 p.m. and then discussed what they had seen for more than an hour.
"It's nothing we didn't already know, but because of this program it moved communication and awareness to the next level," Hansen said. "I'm hoping that other professionals and parents are doing what we're doing. Today, we're still talking about it. We need to continue this conversation with her and our other children and we've just got to keep it going," he said Friday.
The TV broadcast, radio and Web content on KSL and articles and information in both the print and Web editions of the Deseret News highlighted the growing number of suicides in Utah, which totaled 540 during 2012, according to preliminary data from the Utah Department of Health.
More importantly, "A Community Conversation: Breaking the Silence About Suicide" also offered specific information on how parents and children can engage in conversation to prevent what has become a daily occurrence in Utah.
The presentation resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of Utahns seeking help Thursday, public health officials said. Facebook and other social media traffic increased as conversations between those in search of help and those who need help developed, and stories of both heartbreak and success were shared and reshared by viewers, readers and users of all forms of media.
The national suicide prevention line, 1-800-273-TALK (8255), which routes local callers to help in Utah, averages one to two calls each hour. On Thursday there was an increase in the number of callers seeking help, with 10 to 12 coming in each hour during the broadcast and in the hours surrounding the broadcast, Barry Rose, University Neuropsychiatric Institute crisis services manager said.
"It's extremely important that we start talking about this as a culture and community because that's how you open it up and make it OK for kids, adults and, really anyone to confide in somebody that they're having these thoughts," Rose said. "The way to get permission (to talk about the issue) is to have community discussions like this, wide-open discussions, where everyone is involved, where it removed the secrets and opens it up for personal discussion."
He said he has reviewed the notes on the calls and most of them were from individuals with suicidal thoughts who were then given support, direction and follow-up planning. These follow-up plans determine what future help is needed given an individual's support system and the resources in their area.
For those in Salt Lake County, UNI's crisis line offers extensive resources, including a mobile crisis team made up of a mental health peer specialist and licensed clinical social worker who can be dispatched to help those in need. They make it a goal to respond within 30 minutes.
"They really connect and provide hope in that people can recover and can get through mental illness and whatever the issues are," Rose said. "Last month, we went out on about 217 outreaches, so we are going all over the valley."
UNI crisis services also has a short-term observation area as well as a 16-bed treatment facility in downtown Salt Lake City where an individual can be observed and helped without having to be admitted into a locked hospital or emergency room.
"(Suicide) is a very preventable thing if people can get help," Rose said. "One thing people don't understand oftentimes is that the more it can be understood in our community at large, the more helpful it is the easier it is for people to talk about it without feeling judged and discriminated against."
Greg Hudnall, associate superintendent with Provo School District and the executive director of the Utah County Hope Task Force, focuses on suicide prevention in Utah County and educates others on suicide prevention around the state.
Hudnall was a part of the special KSL broadcast and said he received phone calls and emails from people all over the state Thursday who want to tackle the issue in their communities.
He also took at least four phone calls from concerned parents who wanted his help. Another woman who lost a grandson to suicide thanked him for being willing to talk about suicide.
"She said, 'Thank goodness we're now doing something about this, I felt like this was the first time I've had to talk openly,'" Hudnall recounted. "'It's refreshing. I've always wanted to talk about it.'''
He said there is no fix-all to the issue but said communication, collaboration and education will help.
"It's that real hands-on approach that works," Hudnall said. "It's so important to know that we have people out there who want to be involved and want to help knock down barriers, develop a level of trust and realize that we're in this together."
Dr. Todd Grey, Utah's chief medical examiner and also a key member of the community working to curb suicide, said it's easy for people to forget the numbers and statistics about suicide, no matter how staggering they may be. But it's a luxury he doesn't have.
Lots of people are aware of numbers, but each one of those is a body that I see," Grey said. "I do think if people are aware of it and it is something that is within their horizons on an ongoing basis, you have a much better chance of galvanizing the kinds of actions that may help lead to a reduction in suicide."
KSL 5 TV will re-broadcast "A Community Conversation: Breaking the Silence about Suicide" Saturday, 6:30 p.m., and Sunday at 11:30 p.m. Information on preventing suicide appears on both KSL.com and deseretnews.com.
KSL and the Deseret News are owned by Deseret Management Corp.