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Governor’s Task force on Teen Suicide Prevention provides recommendations

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Suicide rates in Utah have been on the rise in Utah since 2007. Over the course of the last eleven years the suicide rate has increased significantly versus the national average. In 2007 Utah was just above the national average. By 2015 Utah had risen to more than two and a half times the national rate. The number of suicides rose sharply beginning in 2012 and also took a significant jump between 2014 and 2015. The 2017 preliminary number of suicides for youth is close to the same number as in 2015. Suicide now stands as the number one cause of death for youths between ten and seventeen in Utah. Morgan County is at approximately half the state average for suicide death rate.

The teen suicide rate is alarming, but suicide deaths in all age categories in Utah are higher than the national average. Utah ranks number seven in the nation for suicide deaths. Suicide is the eighth leading cause of death in Utah. One in fifteen Utah adults have had serious thoughts of suicide.

The rise in teen suicides in Utah prompted the Utah Department of Health to request help from CDC in January of 2017. The report was issued in November of 2017. The analysis provides insight into the individuals who died by suicide and who attempted suicide. Some areas of insight from the report included:

  • 70% were male compared to just under half male in society in general
  • 2% had a mental health diagnosis
  • 0% had a depressive mood at the time of suicide
  • 6% had a history of suicide ideation or suicide attempt
  • 3% experienced a recent crisis
  • 9% disclosed intent to die in the past month
  • 2% left a suicide note
  • Of the 40 cases that included information on the decedent’s sexual orientation, six (15.0%) were identified as gay, lesbian, or bi-sexual vs approximately 3.6% of the population overall and approximately 4.7% of the population in Salt Lake City.
  • 5% had a history of cutting or had evidence of recent cutting
  • 6% of decedents had experienced a technology-related restriction prior to their death

In January the Governor announced the formation of a fourteen member task force to make recommendations on how to reduce the teen suicide rate. He asked the task force to meet and return recommendations by February 15th. Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and Utah State Representative Steven Eliason chaired the task force. The members of the task force were:

  • Stuart Adams, Utah Senate
  • Taryn Aiken Hiatt, Utah director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
  • Sydnee Dickson, Utah State Board of Education Superintendent
  • Doug Gray, University of Utah
  • Marc Harrison, president and CEO of Intermountain Healthcare
  • Gail Miller, chair of the Larry H. Miller Group
  • Mikelle Moore, senior vice president of community health at Intermountain Healthcare
  • Kim Myers, suicide prevention coordinator, Utah Department of Human Services
  • Elder Ronald A. Rasband, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
  • Tanya Vea, vice president and general manager of  KSL
  • Ross Van Vranken, executive director of Utah Neuropsychiatric Institute at the University of Utah
  • Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah

The makeup of the task force represents the population as a whole and the parts of the population at high risk vs the general population including those seeking mental health treatment and those that identify as LGBTQIA+.

The task force was given the assignment to quickly identify actions that they could recommend. Their recommendations include:

 

Lastly, the commission also recommended that additional information needed to be gathered to provide better data on risk factors and contributing causes including:

  • Safe UT mobile app

Safe UT is a statewide crisis and safety tip-line/app for youth that provides real-time crisis intervention through texting and a confidential tip program.

  • Mobile Crisis Outreach Teams (MCOT)

Triaged through the Crisis Line, the University Neuropsychiatric Institute’s Mobile Crisis Outreach Teams (UNI MCOT) provide free, prompt, face-to-face response to any resident of Salt Lake County experiencing a behavioral health crisis.

  • “Zero Suicide” Framework

“Zero Suicide” is a framework for healthcare and behavioral health professionals and healthcare systems to identify and support patients under their care who might be at risk of suicide.

  • “Is Your Safety On?”

Using state suicide prevention funding, the Firearm Safety Committee has produced public education materials as part of the “Is Your Safety On?” campaign, including brochures, posters, and a public service announcement. As of early 2017, over 40,000 gun locks have been distributed.

  • Skills Training in Health Classes

Research from the Student Health and Risk Prevention (SHARP) Statewide Survey shows that children that do not have a close relationship with their parents are at increased for depression and suicide ideation. There are also other skills that would be helpful to teach students. We would like the USBE to include consider expanding the Core Health Curriculum to include materials that focus on improved family relation skills, as well as skills that reduce impulsiveness while building emotional intelligence and resilience.

  • Gatekeeper Training

QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) and Mental Health First Aid are courses intended to train “lay gatekeepers” or “lay mental health first responders” (parents, teachers, ministers, coaches, office supervisors, squad leaders, foremen, advisors, caseworkers) and many others who are strategically positioned to recognize and refer someone at risk of suicide.

  • Hope Squads / Peer-to-peer programs

Hope Squads are groups of students trained to watch for and help other “at-risk” students in schools. Squad members are taught to recognize signs of suicide contemplation in their peers and learn how to properly report these signs to an adult.

  • Public Awareness Messaging

Many are understandably concerned that talking about suicide prevention might increase suicidal ideation. Research confirms that while inappropriate publicity about actual suicides can have a contagion effect, talking sensitively about self-harm and suicide actually helps. And listening heals.

Lastly, the commission also recommended that additional information needed to be gathered to provide better data on risk factors and contributing causes including:

  • increased support for forensic autopsies in the Medical Examiner’s Office
  • collecting data from high school students on sexual orientation and gender identity in the Student Health and Risk Prevention (SHARP) Statewide Survey.

The task force also recommended statues improving the capability for the Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition so it can be effectively funded and monitored and the creation of a privately funded suicide prevention fund.

More information and resources can be found at: https://utahsuicideprevention.org .  If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

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