‘Everyone has been impacted by suicide, one way or another’
By James Tilson
RICHFIELD—Demonstrating his continued commitment to the issue, one of Utah’s congressmen called together experts and volunteers this month to talk about the rise of youth suicide in central Utah.
Rep. Chris Stewart from Utah’s 2nd District hosted a round table discussion in Richfield on Aug. 7, calling it the “Central Utah Youth Suicide Prevention Congressional Discussion.”
“Everyone has been impacted by suicide in one way or another,” said Stewart. “This includes our neighbors, co-workers, family members, and friends. We have seen an alarming increase in suicides in our state, particularly among our youth. It is our responsibility to reach out to those with mental health issues to intervene and help them realize they are not alone.”
Stewart brought together experts from education, health care, volunteers and technology to discuss strategies and methods for prevention and intervention among youth that are facing suicidal ideology and crisis.
Stewart started by talking about his efforts to create a national, three-digit suicide prevention hotline. Stewart said he started working on the effort three years ago, and the effort is close to culmination. The legislation will include funding to pay for professionals to man the lines. “All of us in this room have our secret battles,” said Stewart. “All of us need, from time to time, some kindness.”
Cade Douglas, the superintendent of the Sevier School District, addressed all of the programs the school district had instituted for the 2018-19 school year. In total, there were 31 programs, ranging from behavioral intervention and support, to peer groups, to the SafeUT app and suicide prevention training. “Suicide is an emotional topic,” said Douglas, “and we have to remain strong for our students.”
Morissa Henn, Intermountain Community Health Program director, and Clark Aposhian, Utah Shooting Sports Council chairman, spoke of the importance of firearm safety. Henn explained the period of greatest risk to a person considering suicide is short, usually only about 10 minutes. “We are a gun culture in Utah,” he said. “There are simple steps you can take to increase someone’s safety. Any delay can help.” Thus, gun safes and gun locks may help to get a person past the time when they are actively considering suicide, and re-consider.
“If a gun cabinet is locked, the crisis may pass,” said Henn. “Most people, at least 90 percent, will not keep trying if they don’t attempt it the first time.”
Aposhian compared it to taking care of a friend when they are drinking. “If your friend has had too much to drink, they shouldn’t have their car keys.”
Kim Myers of the Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, Taryn Hiatt, Utah/Nevada director of the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention, and Cathy Davis of the Utah State Board of Education all spoke of the need for access to quality health care as part of suicide prevention.
Myers talked about QPR training, which stands for “Question, Persuade and Refer.” A person using this method will question a person about whether they are thinking about suicide, and if so, talk to that person about seeking mental health help, and then refer them to a mental health expert.
Hiatt told the audience, “Suicide is a health issue, not a crime.” She said people need to be reassured everyone can feel the effects of stress and mental health issues, and remove the stigma of asking for help. “It’s OK to not be OK.”
Davis pointed to suicide prevention training the state has instituted for all schools in Utah. Every educator has to have suicide prevention training every three years, and every school must have suicide prevention classes.
Will Leavitt, the creator of the SafeUT app, described how it worked. It is an app downloaded to your smart phone, and allows the user to talk or text to a licensed clinician at any time. The user can either ask questions pertaining to themselves, or can give a “tip” about someone else.
The app responds quickly, usually within two minutes. From there, the message will be “triaged” to determine if it is an emergency. If so, then resources can be sent directly to the scene within minutes. If not, the message can be further investigated.
SafeUT was developed in Utah, and is state funded. In only a couple of years, the app has become increasingly used. According to Leavitt, the app is averaging 2,000 texts per month, and 1,000-1,500 tips per month.
The tips not only apply to suicide, but also to possible school attacks. Leavitt told the crowd the app was averaging one tip a day about possible school attacks, and in the month of June it received 49 tips.
Robin Towle, Mrs. International 2019, told her own story about suicide in her family. She related how, while raising her children, there were numerous people around them—neighbors and friends—who had died of suicide. When her own son began to show signs of falling behind in school, depression and withdrawal, she let her own fears put pressure on him.
It came to a head during an argument with her son, when he told her, “I don’t even want to live anymore.” “On that day, I had a paradigm shift,” Towle said. “Parents must learn to be emotionally healthy and know children will be OK if you just love them.”
Stewart ended by telling the audience he was encouraged by the great turn out for the discussion. “The crowd here is bigger than all my town halls.” The discussion made him think that “we all have to be more kind to one another,” he said. “We gotta share