Utah has highest rate for suicidal thoughts in nation, study says

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SALT LAKE CITY — About one in 15 Utah adults seriously considered suicide in the past year, the highest rate in the nation, according to a new report.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found 6.8 percent of Utahns age 18 and older had suicidal thoughts based on data from the 2008-2009 National Survey of Drug Use and Health. Georgia had the lowest rate in the country at 2.1 percent, or 1 in 50 adults.

Mental health professionals didn't have ready answers for Utah's ranking.


"As I looked at the study, it was really hard to come up with any conclusions," said John Malouf, a Valley Mental Health psychologist with 37 years' experience. "There was nothing really obvious, like, ‘Of course this state or this region would have a higher rate of suicidal thinking because of this or because of that.'"

Released Thursday, the CDC study attempted to look at suicide in the planning stages. It found that young adults ages 18 to 29 had the highest rate of suicidal thoughts, planning and attempts.

"It points out the difference between suicidal thinking and suicidal behavior," Malouf said. "People who complete suicide have thought about it; a lot of people think about suicide who would never actually do it."

One reason people might be thinking about taking their lives may have something to do with the economic downturn, said Lenora Olson, director of the Intermountain Injury Control Research Center at the University of Utah.

"Utah did not have a good year this year," she said.

Suicide rates have consistently been higher in Western states, especially the Rocky Mountain states.

If you are feeling suicidal, please call 1- 800-SUICIDE. If you are not suicidal but are in crisis and just really need someone to listen, call 1- 877-273-TALK.

In the CDC report, which looked at nonfatal behavior, the pattern was mixed: adults in the Midwest and West were more likely to have thoughts of suicide than those in the Northeast and South. Adults in the Midwest were more likely to have made suicide plans than those in the South, and suicide attempts did not vary by region.

Olson said the study suggests people somehow worked through their problems, which could say something good about Utah despite its high rate of suicidal thinking.

"It might be that we have community support for people who reach out," she said. "It appears they get help."

The Utah Department of Health tracks emergency department and hospitalization data for suicide attempts.

During the same period as the CDC study, there 5,594 emergency room visits and 2,771 hospitalizations for suicide attempts in the state, which comes out to 11 per day. Also, in 2008-09 there were 827 completed suicides, about one per day. Utah had an age-adjusted suicide rate of 16 per 100,000 population for that time period.

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The most recent statistics released in 2010 show Utah with a rate of 14.3 per 100,000, 15th highest in the nation, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

The CDC's findings for suicidal thoughts in the state aren't dissimilar to health department data gathered in from 2005 to 2007.

In that period, 4.6 percent of Utahns over 18 reported thoughts of hurting themselves or that they would be better off dead. Men and women age 85 and older had the highest prevalence at 8 percent and 12.4 percent, respectively. They were followed by men and women ages 18 t0 24 with 7.1 percent and 9.1 percent, respectively.


Story written by Dennis Romboy with contributions from John Daley.

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