Utah’s suicide rate drops for the first time in over a decade — but just barely

Utah’s suicide rate drops for the first time in over a decade — but just barely

(Laura Seitz, KSL, FIle)

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SALT LAKE CITY — The rate of suicide in Utah decreased slightly for the first time in more than a decade, according to a recent report from the Utah Department of Human Services.

In 2018, the Beehive State saw the rate drop from 22.7 out of 100,000 Utahns who died by suicide to 22.2 out of 100,000. While the decrease is “not statistically significant” and doesn’t “represent a trend change,” it is “worth noting, given the increase for many years,” the report reads.

“We’ve had so many years over the last decade where we’ve seen increases. Stabilization is a really important first step,” said Kim Myers, suicide prevention coordinator with the department.

From 2014 to 2019, Utah’s suicide rate was 21.79 per 100,000 people, meaning 620 people died by suicide each year — or nearly two people a day, the report notes. Utah consistently ranks in the top 10 states with the highest rates of suicide, and suicide is the leading cause of death among Utahns ages 10 to 24, according to a 2019 report by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute and the Utah Hospital Association.

Many others who do not die by suicide do attempt, and the most recent data from 2014 shows that 6,039 Utahns were seen in emergency departments and 2,314 were hospitalized for self-inflicted injuries including suicide attempts. However, self-reported suicide attempts decreased from 7.1% to 6.9% from 2017 to 2019 after increasing for several years.

“While stabilization of suicide rates at very high rates is not the success story we need, we do recognize the opportunity to now double down on efforts in order to continue trending in the right direction,” the report reads.

Many involved in the suicide prevention fight have joined because of their personal experiences with suicide, Myers said.

“Every single death prevented is a win, but there’s still so much work to do. It’s kind of like holding your breath and feeling like, OK, maybe there’s that moment of exhale, but you can only exhale a little bit because there’s still so much work to do,” she said.

So, what’s the game plan?

Myers hopes Utah can get to the point where recognizing suicidal symptoms and getting help comes as easily as doing so for any other medical condition. If someone expresses the belief that the world would be better off without them, that’s a sign to go to a mental health professional, just like feeling chest pains would cause someone to go to a hospital or doctor’s office, she said.

While suicide prevention is a multi-faceted effort, the state has decided to focus on three priorities, including:

  • Training everybody to recognize the signs of suicide, talk about it and reach out for help. This is much like first aid but for mental health, Myers said.
  • Ensuring that when people do reach out for professional help, it’s easy to find and prepared for them. The Kem C. Gardner’s 2019 report found that Utah has fewer mental health providers than the national average, and a newly expanded Medicaid program with a rapidly growing state population could intensify the effects of mental health provider shortages in the coming years.
  • Increasing “environmental safety,” most notably as it relates to firearms. A 2018 report from the Utah Department of Health found that firearms are the most common method of suicide and are used in nearly 50% of suicides. The state has worked with gun owners and others to teach safe storage methods and how to keep firearms away from those who may experience a suicide crisis.

SafeUT app

The SafeUT app has been an especially helpful tool in both suicide prevention and other issues like school threats, suicide, bullying and cyberbullying. The app allows users (mainly students) to confidentially report threats and bullying or get mental health help for themselves and their friends.

The app received 891 tips about potential school threats from July 2017 through October 2019 and identified 536 potential school threats, according to newly released numbers from the app. In the last year, 422 tips identified 266 unique potential threats — including tips about weapons being brought to school.

Because of the app, police even discovered bomb-making equipment and found two guns in a student’s backpack, according to Barry Rose, clinical manager of the University of Utah’s University Neuropsychiatric Institute and a SafeUT commission member.

“We’ve thwarted many school attacks and school situations where students were bringing guns to school,” Rose said. “It is very worrisome, and it worries all of us.”

But the app and the program have become a model for others.

“We’re getting inquiries from other states all the time now,” Rose said.

Suicide Prevention Resources
If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, call the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.

Crisis Hotlines

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Statewide/Salt Lake County Crisis Line: 801-587-3000
  • Utah County Crisis Line: 801-691-5433
  • Wasatch Mental Health Crisis Line: 801-373-7393
  • Trevor Project Hotline for LGBTQ teens: 1-866-488-7386

Online Resources

Contributing: Andrew Adams, KSL TV

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