Seven Of Ten Top Suicide Prevention Bills Pass Utah Legislature

Mar 15, 2019, 10:13 PM | Updated: Mar 18, 2019, 10:57 am

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Over the last year, Utah has made progress, but still has the 5th highest suicide rate in the country. It’s a devastating distinction and would take an entire community to stop the trend.

Suicide in Utah

More adults have thought about or attempted suicide in our state than anywhere else in the country. The number of children making suicide plans or attempting suicide has been on the rise, and experts estimate over 100,000 Utah kids are in need of mental health services, but fewer than 20 percent are getting it.

State leaders recognized the need for action, and with the help of the Governor-issued Suicide Prevention Task Force, legislators identified areas for improvement and are making strides toward stopping suicide.

By the end of the Utah legislative session yesterday, seven of the top ten suicide prevention bills passed.

Passed Legislation

Representative Steve Eliason of Sandy is calling this a landmark moment for the state.

“For me, it feels like Christmas because these are gifts for the entire state of Utah,” he said. “This session, I submit, was exponential compared to last session in terms of how much more these bills are going to be able to do.”

HB373: Student Support Amendments

  • Provides more than $26 million to increase mental health providers in local schools from kindergarten through grade 12
  • Increases Safe UT resources, crisis line and youth suicide prevention program.

Eliason said the funding should be enough to hire at least one new counselor, psychologist, social worker, or school nurse in every public school depending on the school’s needs.

“We’ll be able to in a way we’ve never done before, give those children access to professionals that can help them hopefully deal with the issues that they’re facing,” he said.

HB393: Suicide Prevention Amendments

  • Gives primary care providers access to tele-health psychiatric consultation for use in treating patients
  • Requires primary care providers to complete suicide prevention training to renew medical license

As a longtime advocate for suicide prevention measures, Eliason saw how long people had to wait to see a mental health counselor.

“There’s so many parents that on a regular basis are told by their primary care physician or pediatrician that their child may need a higher level of mental health services,” he said. “Then they’ll say, find a child psychiatrist, and sometimes it’s ‘Good luck getting into one,’” he said.

By giving primary care physicians more resources through tele-health, Eliason hopes they can help patients more immediately rather than referring them to another clinic.

“Then that primary care doctor can feel more confident in what they’re recommending for their patient,” he explained.

HB17: Firearm Violence and Suicide Prevention Amendments

  • Reinstates free cable-style gunlock program
  • Increases firearm safety education through brochures and suicide prevention courses
  • Provides coupons toward firearm safe purchases with concealed firearm permits

“Regardless of maybe how you feel about firearms, everybody can agree on the culture of safety,” Eliason said.

He said research shows 87 percent of teens who die by firearm suicide use family owned guns.

“Really the number one thing parents can do to help protect their child or another member of their family is to make sure that their firearm is safely secured,” Eliason explained.

HB174: Psychiatry Medical Residents Amendments

  • Funds four new psychiatry resident slots at the University of Utah each year for the next four years

Eliason said the University of Utah medical school received more than 1,000 applicants for their psychiatric residency program each year, but currently only has enough funding to accept nine students. He hopes this will increase the number of doctors available in the state since he said most Utah trained doctors stay in the state to practice.

SB38: Mental Health Amendments

  • Allows mental health professionals to examine a patient’s mental health history to determine appropriate level of care

SB39: Assisted Outpatient Treatment for Mental Illness

  • Provides assisted outpatient treatment for someone having a mental health crisis without civil commitment

SB106: Mental Health Services in Schools

  • Allows medical billing for in-school mental health services

Senator Lincoln Fillmore of South Jordan represents district 10, which includes the city of Herriman. After losing eight teenagers to suicide over the last couple years, Fillmore said he felt a great urgency to find solutions.

“I really wanted to make sure that we’re providing the services that people with severe mental illness need so that they’re not a danger to themselves or others,” he said. “Being a teenager is hard enough. But if we can provide extra help the kids who need it, I think will be able to cut down on the youth suicide rate.”

Failed Legislation

While many bills were approved by legislators this session, not everything made it through and some felt they left the capitol empty handed. This doesn’t mean the fight for those solutions are over.

HB 209: Extreme Risk Protective Order (Red Flag Bill)

  • Allow family member or law enforcement to petition for a firearm be confiscated from someone demonstrating dangerous behavior

HB 58: Overdose and Suicide Fatality Review Amendments

  • Create a state-wide opioid overdose task force and fund opioid overdose research in Utah

HB399: Prohibition of the Practice of Conversion Therapy upon Minors

  • Ban harmful practices of conversion therapy on LGBTQ youth in Utah

Troy Williams, Executive Director of Equality Utah, along with Taryn Hiatt with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention both resigned from the Governor’s Suicide Prevention Task Force after HB399 saw the end of the session without a passing vote.

“Conversion therapy is fraudulent. It’s dangerous. We know from the data that when children are subjected to conversion therapy, the rates of depression double and attempts at suicide triple,” Williams said.

Proposed changes to the initial bill sparked a sit-in outside the Governor’s office and its failure led to frustration and intense emotions.

“Representative Lisonbee’s bill was a hostile takeover. She rewrote our conversion therapy bill, and really provided cover for conversion therapists to continue their harmful practices,” Williams explained.

By the time emotions cooled, it was too late.

“So we’re hopeful that Governor Herbert will call a special session and will be able to address this issue in interim,” Williams said.

“This thing kind of erupted and blew up and that’s unfortunate,” Herbert said. “The effort was to find a common ground to make it better than what we have today as a status quo.”

Herbert recognizes the importance and said he would be interested in holding a special session if people on both sides of the issue can come together.

“We’ve got to regather people around the table and see what we can do to come together and find what is the proper policy and put that into legislation,” Herbert said. “If we can do that in a special session, that would be great. We don’t call special sessions very often, but maybe it could be part of the upcoming special session. That means we have to get people to agree.”

What’s next?

Herbert said coming to a solution on conversion therapy will be his top priority for suicide prevention moving forward.

“Again, the emphasis should be on suicide prevention and making sure that our LGBTQ youth understand that they’re loved, they’re cared for, they’re respected. We love them the way they are,” Herbert said.

Williams said he is hopeful everyone can come to an agreement.

“One thing that we all have in common whether you are a member of the faith community, Republican, Democrat, whatever — we all want young people to be healthy and happy. So I know we can find common ground there,” he said.

Eliason said he is excited for the governor to sign many of the passed bills into legislation soon, which he believes he will do enthusiastically.

Suicide Prevention Resources

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or exhibiting warning signs, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Additional Crisis Hotlines

  • Utah County Crisis Line: 801-226-4433
  • Salt Lake County/UNI Crisis Line: 801-587-3000
  • Wasatch Mental Health Crisis Line: 801-373-7393
  • National Suicide Prevention Crisis Text Line: Text “HOME” to 741-741
  • Trevor Project Hotline for LGBTQ teens: 1-866-488-7386
  • University Of Utah Crisis Interventional Crisis Line: 801-587-300

Online resources:

  • NAMI Utah
  • Utah Chapter-American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
  • Suicide Prevention Lifeline
  • Safe UT Crisis Text and Tip Line

In an emergency:

  • Call the police
  • Go to the emergency room

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Seven Of Ten Top Suicide Prevention Bills Pass Utah Legislature