Jacob Wiegand, Deseret News
Laura Warburton receives a hug while sitting next to Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, as representatives speak about HB41, also known as "Hannah's Bill," at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 26, 2018. The name "Hannah's Bill" is in reference to Warburton's daughter who died by suicide in 2014 after not being able to get through to her psychologist on the phone. The bill, which passed the House with a unanimous vote, requires Utah crisis lines to be available year-round and at all hours of the day or have the capability to roll over to other lines.

SALT LAKE CITY — A panel made up of mental health professionals and media members met together to discuss the growing crisis of suicide. Information and resources are needed, they said, to provide hope. Getting the word out to the public is crucial to saving lives.

As reported in the Deseret News, the panel concluded:

"We can make a big difference when we partner with the media to get the right message out there," said Kim Myers, suicide prevention coordinator with the Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health. "I hope we realize the value of partnering together in forwarding these issues. The media can be a great partner in that. … (It) can change the public perspective and promote healing."

That was on April 7, 2014.

Since that time the Deseret News, KSL-TV and KSL Newsradio have tried to shine a light on suicide, learning the pitfalls of certain types of language and coverage that can become a contagion. Still, hundreds of young people (as well as adults) have died by suicide and the continued pressure of social media and other factors contributing to anxiety and mental stress has some youth believing there is no hope.

Two months after that April meeting, 16-year-old Hannah Warburton, a Weber High School student, took her own life.

"She was one strong girl. She was almost a black belt. She hated to lose when she fought," her mother, Laura Warburton, told Utah lawmakers last week as Hannah's Bill — HB41 — gained the support of lawmakers in the state's House of Representatives. "She was tough. She was beautiful and tough, so the idea that only the weak take their own lives is absolutely not true," Warburton said.

Suicide remains the leading cause of death among young people in Utah. For three years the word has spread. KSL's "Breaking the Silence" series lifted it further into the public consciousness. The Deseret News' in-depth work has looked at why the suicide rate in Utah is higher than the national average.

As we wrote in December 2016: "Experts aren’t sure why suicide rates in Utah are higher than the national average, but they say isolation, easy access to firearms and the stigma associated with recognizing and getting help for mental illness, common in the West, are all contributing factors."

Last year the state health department began tracking sexual orientation as part of its Youth Risk Behavior Survey, to further see how to help gay youth stay safe.

And yet the deaths continue.

I wrote about it again in this column Sept. 9, 2017, noting legal changes that are trying to hold people accountable for behavior that may contribute to another's suicide attempt.

Earlier this month, Gov. Gary Herbert appointed a group of business, religious, education and health care leaders to work with the Suicide Prevention Coalition to save the youth of Utah. Familiar names like Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the LDS Church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; Gail Miller, businesswoman and philanthropist; Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox; KSL executive Tanya Vea and a host of others are engaged in bringing the governor a next-steps plan by Feb. 15.

The fight to solve this problem is fully engaged.

The four-member panel back in 2014 was comprised of Liz Sollis of the Utah Department of Human Services; Candice Madsen, then a KSL-TV producer; Barry Rose, crisis services manager for the University Neuropsychiatric Institute; and Emily Hoerner with the Utah Chapter of American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

I spoke with Madsen on Saturday. She's been actively engaged in this cause for years and has become an expert in how to convey messages and seek help. I posed a question to her: What should happen next? Are we breaking the silence? Is the word getting out there?

She said the issue remains complicated. But she offered this: "What would I do? I would share more stories of recovery and push for more mental health resources. Lots more awareness also means more people are seeking services that were already slim.

"In Utah more and more clinics are putting psychiatrists and psychologists on staff. They lose money on the front end but know they are saving money on the back end by avoiding crisis situations and keeping people out of ERs."

Hannah's Bill, if approved and signed into law, would require crisis lines in the state to be available at all hours of the day year-round or have the capacity to roll over to other lines. The bill also calls for $2.3 million in ongoing funding for the crisis lines.

1 comment on this story

No single step can stop suicides. But there is no turning back for state officials, educators and the media. The media will aways play a watchdog role. But in this case, it also has an important social responsibility to seek solutions to what is a catastrophic problem. We need more success stories about people overcoming thoughts of suicide and reporting on what is working.

For those in immediate need of help, the Utah Department of Health offers suicide prevention help at utahsuicideprevention.org/suicide-prevention-basic. The national crisis hotline is 800-784-2433. Put it on your fridge.