SALT LAKE CITY — Utah schools have a new tool in the fight to prevent suicide — a state suicide prevention coordinator. It's a tool that's desperately needed since preliminary data shows 32 youth, ages 10 to 18, have taken their own lives during 2013.
As part of KSL-TV's ongoing effort to break the silence on suicide, an effort was made to learn more about the State Office of Education's new mission to combat a growing problem among Utah children.
Matt Jungemann is one of the faces behind the numbers.
"He was my best friend," said Matt's sister, Callie Jungemann. "He always brought out the best in me."
He had a close relationship with his family, was a well-liked student at Juan Diego High School and excelled on the Lacrosse team.
"I think that is why it was a big shock to everyone," said Lisa Jungemann, Matt's mother.
After receiving disappointing news, Matt made an impulsive decision to end his life.
"I think there is such an expectation in society to succeed and to do well and I think sometimes those pressures just kind of creep in," Lisa said.
And those pressures become too much for teens who haven't developed strong coping skills.
"They don't have the reserve and it just takes that one thing to hit them that they can't see through the fog," she said.
I will do whatever it takes to save a life. I just hope that I can make a difference.
Lisa said they had talked about his struggles and he had support, but she never thought to ask him if he was suicidal. She has learned how important it is to ask the direct questions.
"Then they have to give you an honest answer, 'yes' or 'no,' and that may be the trigger that takes them off that ledge," Lisa said.
Debi Lewis was recently made the new suicide prevention specialist with the State Office of Education.
"We need to take children and teach them how to handle pressure, how to deal with disappointments," Lewis said.
The legislature created her position and also passed a law requiring school districts to offer an annual parent seminar on suicide awareness.
"There is not any family that is immunne to it," Lewis said.
Parents will learn warning signs, what can be done to prevent suicide and where to turn for help.
"If we can get the information into parent's hands, they will be prepared to stop and eliminate suicide amongst teens," Lewis added.
The Jungemanns believe education is key.
"It's one that needs to be included with drugs, drinking and all the other topics that are in there," Lisa said.
Together as a family, they are trying to raise awareness and offer support to other families. This weekend they will host their first Out of the Darkness suicide prevention walk.
"I will do whatever it takes to save a life," Callie said. "I just hope that I can make a difference."
The Out of the Darkness Walk for Suicide and silent auction will be held this Saturday at 11 a.m. at Sugar House Park. For more information, visit the Salt Lake City Walk donor page on the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website.
For a list of suicide prevention resources, please click here.