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Utah Suicide Rate Decreases for First Time in Over a Decade

November 15, 2019

For the first time in over a decade, Utah’s suicide rate fell slightly in 2019, according to the fiscal year 2019 report of State Suicide Prevention Programs by the state Division of Mental Health and Substance Abuse. This decrease means that we are doing something right, but the work isn’t done. Now is the time to increase our efforts.

According to the report, the suicide rates dropped from 22.7 to 22.2. “The decrease is not statistically significant nor does it represent a trend change, however, it is worth noting given the year-over-year increase for many years,” said the report. Suicide remains a leading cause of death in the State of Utah. An average of 592 Utahns die by suicide each year, and an average of 4,538 Utahns attempt suicide.

Below is an excerpt from an article written by Marjorie Cortez in the Deseret News: After decade of increases, Utah’s suicide rate dropped slightly in 2018, report says.

At first glimpse, there was a lot of excitement, even tears, when the 2018 data indicated Utah’s suicide rate had not increased over the previous year, said Michael Staley, with the Utah Office of the Medical Examiner.

“Then there was this moment of pause, where we kind of had to look around and say, ‘But what does this mean?’

“I think that is so important to remind folks this is not the time to pack our bags and go home and call this a win. This is the time to double down on what we’re doing because there’s evidence here, even though it’s kind of arbitrary and not causal, but there seems to be some suggestion here that what we’re doing is working,” said Staley, who coordinates suicide prevention research.

Barry Rose, crisis services manager for the University Neuropsychiatric Institute, said the slight decrease “at least indicates we’re on the right track and we’ve made some investments that are paying off.”

Reducing suicide deaths “was really our first major goal, not that our group here is the reason this happened, but we would like to think we were part of it. I think all of us collectively, our goal as the state, county mental health division and everyone involved, is just to see we could stop it from increasing, at least to level off, and continue to work toward decreasing those numbers,” he said.

Much work remains, Staley said.

Suicide is the seventh-leading cause of death in Utah, and the suicide rates in the Rocky Mountain states lead the nation. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Utah’s suicide rate ranks sixth nationally. Montana has the highest rate followed by Alaska, Wyoming, New Mexico and Idaho, according to the foundation.

The most recent data says 6,039 Utahns were seen in emergency departments for suicide attempts, according to 2014 numbers, and 2,314 Utahns were hospitalized for self-inflicted injuries including suicide attempts.

The Division of Mental Health and Substance Abuse report also notes that self-reported suicide attempts decreased from 7.1% to 6.9% from 2017 to 2019 after multiple years with increases.

Utilization of the SafeUT app, which provides 24/7 real-time crisis intervention for youths, is also growing. In the month of October, the app received 3,700 tips and chats.

Suicide prevention starts with each of us. Download the SafeUT app, reach out to those around you, listen without prejudice, and offer support.

If you or someone you know is struggling and/or having thoughts of suicide, please reach out. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text the Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741), or message a trained crisis counselor through the SafeUT app. These support lines are available 24/7, 365 days a year.

The Utah Attorney General’s Office is proud to partner with organizations such as the Jason Foundation, the SafeUT Commission, the University Neuropsychiatric Institute (UNI), and Life’s Worth Living Foundation. These organizations help raise awareness of the prevalence of suicide in the State of Utah and provide resources and education on suicide prevention.

World Mental Health Day

October 10, 2019

Today, the Utah Attorney General’s Office observes World Mental Health Day to bring awareness about mental health and to recognize and acknowledge the need to advocate against the social stigma. With this year’s theme placing an emphasis on suicide prevention, we underscore that you are not alone. You are loved and you are greatly needed.

Mental health is prevalent among everyone from all walks of life. People of every race, gender, sexual orientation, age, or socioeconomic status are affected by mental health challenges. According to the Kem C. Gardener Policy Institute’s 2019 report on Utah’s Mental Health System, our country is in the midst of a mental health crisis with increasing suicide rates, untreated anxiety and depression, and a prevalence of serious mental illnesses. Utah has one of the highest rates of suicide in the country, where it is the leading cause of death for Utahns ages 10 to 24. Tragically, Utah ranks the lowest in the nation for mental health, with a higher prevalence of mental illness and lower rates of access to care.

Unfortunately, despite the rising mental health crisis, the social stigma against mental illnesses remains a consistent presence. Ending the stigma is complex and will not happen overnight. While treatment and support are available for those that need it, the lines of communication must be open. The importance and inherent need for an open, understanding mind are more crucial than ever. The first step starts with listening to understand and simply be there for those around you.

For World Mental Health Day, we urge you to listen when someone reaches out to you. We urge you to have those important conversations about mental illness and educate yourself on what mental health is and then help teach others. Additionally, we urge you to be kind to those around you. Everyone is juggling a lot in their lives, whether it be stress, disappointment, grief, or pain, and all those things can add up quickly. Speak and act with kindness.

If you or someone you know is struggling, it is okay to get help. Doctors, counselors, and agencies are there for you with available resources and training. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text the Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741), or message a trained crisis counselor through the SafeUT app. These support lines are available 24/7, 365 days a year.

FCC Recommends Three-Digit Crisis Hotline

August 16, 2019

Following five and a half years of hard work and perseverance by the Utah Attorney General’s Office and Utah state and federal legislators, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) plans to move forward with changing the ten-digit national suicide hotline to a three-digit number – 988. The hotline will also be available to those who are struggling with mental health crises of any kind.

Yesterday afternoon, the Federal Communications Commission’s Wireline Competition Bureau and Office of Economics and Analytics announced that they sent a report to Congress which recommends that the Commission consider designating 988 as a replacement to the current number, 1-800-273-8255.

This follows the 2018 report on the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act of 2018 which recommended that a three-digit number should be used for the crisis hotline. Suicide and mental health numbers have increased over the years, causing an influx of callers to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. According to the FCC, 2.2 million people called the hotline in 2018.

“Our team found that a 3-digit number would make it easier for Americans in crisis to reach someone who could help,” Ajit Pai, the FCC’s chairman, said in an email statement on Thursday night. “If we can stand up ‘988’ nationwide as a way to access suicide prevention services, we believe it could save lives. I’ll do everything I can to move this forward.”

Utah Senator Dan Thatcher first conceived the idea for a three-digit suicide prevention line in 2012, but it didn’t gain traction in the Legislature at that time. Senator Thatcher partnered with the Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes, Wade Farraway, Missy Larsen, and others at the Utah Attorney General’s Office in 2014. The group started the SafeUT app as a way to reach Utahns in crisis while still campaigning for the three-digit number. In 2017, the group enlisted the help of Rep. Chris Stewart and Sen. Orrin Hatch, who presented the idea on the federal level. This has led to the recommendation of the three-digit number 988.

The change has not yet been implemented and will have a months-long process. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health or contemplating suicide, please use the SafeUT app to speak with a crisis counselor for free or call 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).

SafeUT App: Fighting Suicide & Mental Illness

June 3, 2019

Inside Digital Health recently covered the alarming rate of teen suicide and mental illness in Utah and how the SafeUT app is looking to change that.

Read excerpts of the article below.

“Two young people are treated for suicide attempt every day in Utah, more than the national average. In 2014, suicide was the leading cause of death for youth ages 10 to 17. In one high school in Herriman, Utah, seven students and one recent graduate died by suicide during the 2017-18 school year. The question of whether suicide prevention efforts are working in Utah is routinely covered in the news. Finding root causes of the increase in suicide and enabling better access to care for vulnerable patients is a top priority — and technology can help in prevention efforts.”

“Adolescents are more likely to share their mental health concerns with someone who is not a close friend or relative; this makes an app ideal to increase accessibility for teens.” 

“Digital health tools like SafeUT app are making prevention more effective than ever in Utah. They offer more resources and facilitate mental health support in a sphere where many youth are already socializing, which is key to connecting them with resources and ultimately providing better solutions for students suffering from depression and mental illness.”

You can read the entire article here.

Photo by Ángel López

Three-digit crisis line on the horizon

At the Utah State Capitol, yesterday, U.S. Representative Chris Stewart hosted a celebration of The National Suicide Prevention Hotline Improvement Act which was signed into law last week. The Trib headline was perfect: Amid tears for the lost, Utah leaders celebrate new law to help create a new national suicide hotline. You can read the article here

Related – Deseret News: A three-digit suicide crisis line could launch next year

This was an emotional event. Rep. Stewart kicked it off by taking a moment to remember those lives that were lost and applauded all who have worked to make a three-digit crisis line a reality.

A Utah idea intended to help 3 million people will now impact the lives of over 300 million Americans of all ages. 

Listen in here. 

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes spoke about why the passage of this act is a game-changer for Utah teens, veterans, and how everyone across the nation will now benefit from it. If you haven’t read AG Reyes’ op-ed on the topic, here’s a link

For those who came in late, the three-digit suicide hotline was the subject of a bill by Utah Senator Daniel Thatcher over 4 years ago. That idea met unexpected political opposition locally, but morphed into the creation of the SafeUT Commission and eventually the popular, effective SafeUT app

At the same time, U.S. Representative Chris Stewart and U.S. Senator Orrin took Senator Thatchers original idea back to Washington, D.C. and the rest is history. 

Thank you for paying attention, and thank you for all you do to guard and protect those around you. 

You can watch the entire conference below.  

 

Last but not least – thanks, Senator Hatch, for your support from afar!

AG Reyes Urges SafeUT App Use & Announces New Features

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 16, 2018

 

UTAH ATTORNEY GENERAL SEAN REYES ENCOURAGES SAFEUT USE IN SCHOOLS,
INTRODUCES NEW FEATURES
SafeUT team averages 1,178 students chats per month

SALT LAKE CITY – Today, Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes announced two new features of the SafeUT app and encouraged schools to enroll and participate in a proven resource that helps keep students and schools safe. The new features, just in time for the new academic school year, include a parent/educator button and access to services for higher education institutions.

“The statewide adoption and response to the SafeUT app has been incredibly successful and effective. But there are still some schools that haven’t integrated this lifesaving tool. If your school is not using this, please ask your school leaders to start. Your voice could save a life,” stated Attorney General Reyes. “Students facing all sorts of crises are reaching out for themselves or others and the app is working.”

“To ensure success, we must provide services that are current, relevant, and meeting the needs of the community,” AG Reyes continued. “By expanding SafeUT’s reach to institutions of higher learning, to parents, and to educators in both English and Spanish, we further empower those impacted by mental and behavioral health challenges. Our mission is to save Utahns, particularly youth, before it’s too late. We connect them to people who are available 24-7, who care for them, will fight for them, and lift them through their current struggles toward a healthier future.”

The SafeUT app, launched in 2016, was geared toward elementary, junior high, and high school students struggling with suicide, relationship difficulties, and a variety of other mental and behavioral health issues. Every public school district in Utah is enrolled, but not every school has taken advantage of the SafeUT app and its services. Eleven new schools enrolled in the SafeUT program for the upcoming school year, which means that 77% percent of K-12 schools in Utah are now utilizing the app.

School involvement is a critical step for schools to ensure real-time communication between crisis responders and school administration for quick action. The addition of the parent/educator button provides the opportunity for educators and parents to ask questions, find resources, and submit relevant information to help protect students and schools.

Adding higher education addresses two needs: 1) immediate support for college students who wrestle with similar mental and behavioral health issues, and 2) greater ability for college authorities to respond quickly to potential threats. These new features combined with current services, which now include Spanish capabilities, expand the program’s reach and effectiveness.

During the 2017-2018 school year, crisis counselors at the University Neuropsychiatric Institute fielded over 15,000 texts and over 7,000 tips. The most common topics of conversation were bullying, suicide, depression, cutting, and drugs. Below are last year’s numbers.

  • Chats/Texts
    • 15,313 chats
    • 1,178 average chats per month
    • 316,840 threads (back and forth interaction between a student and counselor)
    • 21 average threads per chat
  • Tips
    • 7,476 tips
    • 575 average tips per month
    • 23,023 threads per chat
    • 3 average threads per chat

The SafeUT program was developed with funding from the Utah State Legislature in collaboration with the Utah Office of the Attorney General, the University Neuropsychiatric Institute (UNI), the Utah State Office of Education, and the Utah Anti-Bullying Coalition.

# # #

 

NOTES:

  1. You can find out more about the SafeUT program here: https://healthcare.utah.edu/uni/programs/safe-ut-smartphone-app/#what. 
  2. The members of the SafeUT Commission include: Ric Cantrell, Utah Attorney General Chief of Staff; Lillian Tsosie-Jensen, Utah Public Education System; Spencer Jenkins, Utah System of Higher Education; Teresa Brechlin, Department of Health; Rep. Steven Eliason, Utah State House of Representatives; Sen. Daniel Thatcher, Utah State Senate; Barry Rose, University Neuropsychiatric Institute; Ammon Mauga, Law Enforcement and Emergency Response; Ruth Wilson, Utah Department of Human Services; Barbara Stallone, Community Member; Pam Hayes, Community Member; and Katherine Rhodes, Utah Attorney General Executive Assistant.

Op-ed: Three-digit suicide lifeline is a huge victory for Utah

In an op-ed published in the Deseret News on July 27th, Attorney General Sean Reyes shares the history of the three-digit number for mental and behavioral crises. A journey which started with a few in Utah – and led to the creation of the SafeUT app – reached a milestone as the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelming voted in favor for the creation of a National Suicide Hotline.


By Sean Reyes
Utah Attorney General

With the American public focused on myriad issues in the media, Congress quietly passed a bill this week that is a game-changer in preventing death by suicide and supporting those contemplating it.

Suicide is the leading cause of death for teens in Utah. It has increased exponentially over the past 20 years. And across all age demographics, Utah has some of the highest per capita suicide losses in the nation.

There are many theories about why this is. No one knows exactly all the reasons. We do know there are hyper-vulnerable populations like veterans, LGBTQ youths, and victims of abuse. We know that depression is one of the largest drivers. Bullying, isolation, traumatic incidents, or addiction can also be major contributors.

We also know there is too much stigma, shame, and judgment when it comes to those grappling with mental and behavioral challenges. When someone gets cancer, the neighbors pull together to support them; when someone is diagnosed with mental illness, the neighbors gossip. The person in pain is often assumed weak or somehow deserving of his or her circumstances. Families are sometimes embarrassed.

Some fear that talking about suicide will encourage it (studies show this is not the case). Many lack an understanding of how to even address the unthinkable. Avoiding the topic, though, has done nothing to help those in crisis, those who are hurting and feel alone, those who are silently suffering.

Long before I came into office, I supported friends and families dealing with suicide ideation, suicide attempts and, in the most tragic cases, death. As an ecclesiastical leader, I felt a great responsibility to help but realized my own ignorance and at times, insensitivity. It seemed there were few resources for those trying to support and particularly for those suffering.

When I became attorney general in 2013, I knew we had to do more as a state. Too many youths were turning to suicide to escape pain, loneliness, addiction and mental illness. Even one life lost to suicide is too many. In those days the biggest advocate I could find for suicide awareness was state Sen. Daniel Thatcher. He was informed, full of compassion, and relentless. Many discouraged him and me from prioritizing suicide resources and emergency intervention. Their “friendly” advice was that it was too dark to discuss and would hurt us politically.

Undeterred, Sen. Thatcher and I enlisted the help of state Rep. Steve Eliason in the 2014 legislative session to find ways to help those in crisis. My incredible chief of staff at the time, Missy Larsen, led our office’s initiative and testified with Sen. Thatcher in support of a three-digit number for mental and behavioral crises, similar to 911 for physical emergencies. Political opposition defeated our efforts, so we turned toward a smartphone app that could be a lifeline.

In 2015, with the help of the University of Utah Neuropsychiatric Institute, we created the SafeUT app. Today, trained mental health professionals chat, text, and counsel thousands of Utah teens through SafeUT. The program is credited with saving many lives across the state and has become a national model other states are seeking to emulate.

And yet, even then, we knew it wasn’t enough. The suicide rate remained too high. In 2016, conversations with Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Chris Stewart gave new hope to create a three-digit line — not just in Utah but nationally. Sen. Hatch and his team were amazing. He sponsored legislation creating a national suicide hotline, passing the Senate in the fall of 2017 with the support of Sen. Mike Lee. Since that time, as the lead House sponsor, Rep. Chris Stewart and his dedicated staff have pushed the bill with House leadership, getting it passed this week with a vote of 379 to 1.

Creation of the three-digit National Suicide Hotline is a huge victory for Utah and our country. I thank Sen. Hatch and Rep. Stewart for successful passage of this landmark legislation. This further cements Sen. Hatch’s legacy as one of the greatest protectors of children and families in our nation’s history. I offer my gratitude to the many people around our state who have advocated for this bill, including Chief Missy Larsen, Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton, members of the state’s suicide task force who have helped advocate for this measure, and especially state Sen. Thatcher and state Rep. Eliason. Soon, anyone can call a three-digit number and connect with a trained mental health professional who will listen, help, and connect them to resources that save lives.

At the root of all our efforts to prevent suicide is the need to connect, to feel valued, and to feel like we belong. Working together, we can make those around us feel valued and let them know that they matter. We can each do more to end or alleviate the causes of depression, loneliness, victimization, and mental illness. And while we try to diminish isolation and disconnectedness, we now have another tool to stop suicide and help those in crisis know there is hope.

Photo by Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash

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