We can’t prevent every suicide, but we can stem the suicide epidemic

When a nation, state or community sizes up a problem and takes action, things get better. It’s happened with the teen pregnancy rate. It is happening now with opiate abuse. And based on our in-depth, three-part series, we at the Messenger believe the nation, Utah and Sanpete County can bring down the suicide rate.

In the past 15 years, more than 90 people have died from suicide in Sanpete County. That’s not a huge number relative to our population, which is now pushing 30,000. But it’s far more deaths than are acceptable from a wholly preventable cause.

As our series pointed out, the yardstick is not just deaths, but suicide attempts that permanently scar the memories of attempters and frighten family members.

In fact, it rattles the whole community, as it did a couple of weeks ago when, just as our series was completed, we learned there had been another suicide in Ephraim.

Our series explored the complexity of suicide, the interplay of factors that seem to lead people to the precipice. There’s mental illness, substance abuse and loss of a relationship.

For youth, specifically, some of the precipitants can be feeling unsuccessful and being bullied. Veterans, especially vets who have been in combat and who have come out with post-traumatic stress disorder, are highly vulnerable.

There is even evidence that high altitudes where there’s less oxygen in the air have higher rates of depression and suicide than lower altitudes where the oxygen concentration is greater.

A host of great ideas have been advanced to prevent suicide in Utah, including Sanpete County. They include:

  • Mobile crisis outreach teams. These are teams of mental health crisis workers who go to the homes where people are threatening suicide and meet with the troubled person face to face. The teams are available in Salt Lake County, but so far, not in rural areas.
  • Getting doctors and other primary care providers to assess every patient for suicide and make sure a suicide prevention plan is implemented for every at-risk patient.
  • Get more people trained in mental health first aid, just as we have many people trained in CPR. Sanpete Valley Hospital is sponsoring such a training on Monday, Sept. 16 at noon. The training is open to all.
  • Set up Hope Squads in schools. These are teams of students trained to identify problems in fellow students and let an adult know. Several Sanpete schools have the teams. There are needed in all of our schools.
  • Teach everybody to download and use the SafeUT phone app. This app enables a person to connect directly to the crisis center at the University of Utah Institute for Neuropsychiatry.
  • Congress and the FCC are working toward implementing a nationwide three-digit suicide-prevention number. Until the number is operative, be sure you know, and your family knows, the longer national number: 1-800-273-TALK.

Dialing it will get the caller quite quickly to a crisis intervention clinician at the  Institute for Neuropsychiatry.

As we work to implement these measures, let’s keep up the efforts at awareness, such as the Out-of-the-Darkness walk last weekend in Richfield and the suicide-prevention walk Monday night at Snow College.

We can’t prevent every suicide, but we can turn around the heartbreaking suicide epidemic.