Suicide affects a broad swath of society, so it follows solutions must originate from a broad range of sources. But however they come, come they must, for Utahns desperately need help in the midst of a mental health and suicide crisis that isn’t abating.
The latest examination comes from a Utah Foundation report released earlier this October. It finds suicides in Utah have increased dramatically across all age groups since the turn of the millennium, with more pronounced increases during the last decade. Nationally, Utah ranks fifth for people taking their own lives.
Much effort in this state and across the country has been targeted toward youths vulnerable to bullying or mental health challenges. This is right, as rates of suicide among this age group have steadily increased. But the report paints a broader picture, noting the most severely affected demographic remains working-age adults. The problem doesn’t rest in a single group, and neither should the solutions.
Concrete explanations for any increase in this harrowing phenomenon generally elude experts, but there are curious links that deserve more exploration. Geography is one. The highest suicide rates in Utah appear to cluster in five contiguous counties, all of which are rural and are among those in the state with higher elevations. Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico, Idaho, Nevada and Colorado — other Mountain West states with higher elevations and chunks of rural populations — all fall in the top 10 for suicides in the country.
The internet is another. It's no secret suicide rates have increased at the same time the world has embraced online social platforms rife with comparisons, bullying and anonymity.
Prevention efforts will require action on a broad range of fronts. “People have to realize that we've got to have engagement across the whole of society on this issue,” said Peter Reichard, president at the Utah Foundation. “Whether it is better parenting, having engaged friends, engaged educators and engaged health professionals, help in the criminal justice system, involved employers and policymakers, even the media has a role to play.”
Utah’s decision-makers have so far been actively engaged. The Legislature has passed several pieces of legislation over the past five years addressing the problem, including creation of the SafeUT app that allows anyone to submit anonymous tips or get real-time professional help. Utah’s members of Congress are working to improve the national suicide prevention hotline. The state’s public schools and institutions of higher learning have increased their efforts to promote mental health, and some schools now hire dedicated mental health counselors.
Other solutions are less conspicuous but are just as necessary. Since firearms are used in half of all Utah suicides, some of the state’s gun sellers and firing ranges have joined a national coalition to educate people about warning signs and prevention techniques. The endeavor has engaged both the medical community and the firearms industry, a prime example of what can be accomplished when people or organizations with different interests come together for the common good.7 comments on this story
Despite professional efforts, individual Utahns are the first line of defense and can make a difference in suicide prevention by refusing to bully and belittle others, staying aware of those who may be in turmoil, having earnest conversations with friends and associates and listening to hear rather than just listening to reply.
Suicide is as complex as it is heartbreaking. Answers have been difficult to find, but that’s no reason to believe help and hope are not in the days ahead. With everyone actively contributing in their own spheres of influence, Utah can reverse this tragic trend.
If you need help, there are resources: The 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline may be reached at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). In Utah, you can access help through the SafeUT app or by calling its crisis line, 801-587-3000.