Lt. Governor Spencer Cox assigned
to youth suicide prevention task force
By Linda Petersen
Feb. 1, 2018
FAIRVIEW—Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox has been appointed by Gov. Gary Herbert to lead a community task force to address youth suicide in Utah.
“We’re very similar to other Intermountain states that have seen a surge, in fact, in teenage suicide. We find teenage suicide is the leading cause of death among our young people,” Herbert said at a Jan. 17 press conference announcing the formation of the task force.
The 14-member task force, which will also be led by Rep. Steve Eliason of Sandy, is charged by the governor to consolidate the input of several groups that are working on suicide prevention among teens.
They are to come up with the best ideas and make recommendations to the governor and legislature, and then legislation can be passed and funding resources can be allocated as needed.
At the press conference, Cox spoke about the need for teens contemplating suicide to have someone to turn to.
“If they know that they’re not alone, if they can find someone who believes in them, someone who can give them hope, if we together as a coalition, if we as a state, if we as communities, if we as family members, if we as human beings, can find ways to reach out to every individual, we can stop this, we can prevent this, and we can do it together,” he said.
Cox said his family, like most families, has been impacted by suicide.
“This issue is so powerful,” Cox told the Sanpete Messenger. “Everyone knows someone who has either attempted or has taken their lives.”
While Sanpete County-specific figures are not available, statistics show that in the Central Utah Health District (which covers Juab, Millard, Sanpete, Sevier, Piute and Wayne counties) between 2011 and 2015 there were five suicides among children ages 10 to 17, a low number.
However, during the same time period, 122 kids visited a hospital or emergency room because of self-inflicted injuries (considered suicide attempts). Eleven of those had to be hospitalized.
“One is too many,” Cox said of both suicides and suicide attempts among young people.
“Those numbers are very sobering,” he said. “While we tend to focus on suicide completion, we should also focus on suicide attempts.”
Cox said one of the charges of the task force is to give tools to children, families, health professionals and teachers in the school districts to address this problem.
Cox, whose son Caleb is a member of the HOPE Squad at North Sanpete High School, sees initiatives like HOPE Squad as an effective way to reach at-risk teens. (HOPE Squads are also at North Sanpete Middle School and Manti High School.)
“Many of them will confide in a peer when they won’t turn to an adult,” he said.
Cox said one of the task force’s agenda items is to review the HOPE Squad program and to see how to get the program into more schools, even in elementary school upper grades.
Cox also said he wants to make sure rural areas get funding and the same tools that are available along the Wasatch Front to combat teen suicide.
To get involved in suicide prevention efforts or to find suicide prevention training, visit https://utahsuicideprevention.org.