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New, Landmark Mental Health Study In Utah Shows Growing Demand For More Providers

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – A new, landmark study on mental health in Utah shows just how wide the gap is between people who need services and the help available. The need is particularly urgent for Utah teenagers. The report shows suicide is the leading cause of death for people in Utah ages 10-24.

Laura Warburton never tires of telling her daughter’s story.

“Hannah was vivacious. She was sassy. Stubborn, not sure where she got that from,” her mother described. “And at the same time was a typical teenager and hid her pain, and believed her thoughts that there was no hope. She believed those lies.”

After 15-year-old Hannah Warburton attempted suicide, her mother sought help. “We tried to put her in the hospital, but there wasn’t a bed open,” she said.

They turned to therapy but couldn’t get into a doctor for six weeks. In a moment of crisis, Hannah called her doctor’s office seeking immediate help, but it didn’t come quickly enough.

“She decided enough was enough and she killed herself,” Laura Warburton said. Hannah Warburton’s story illustrates the gaps in mental health services in Utah shown in a new Gardner Policy Institute study.

The report shows there are currently only six child psychiatrists for every 100,000 children. Frankly put, there aren’t enough providers in the state and it could take us 15 years to catch up to the national average which wouldn’t even meet Utah’s needs.

Laura Summers, Senior Health Care Analyst at the Gardner Institute, authored the report. “So while we have this increasing demand, we also don’t have the supply in place to meet those increasing needs for the state of Utah,” she explained.

The statistics are startling. Nearly 15 percent of boys and about 30 percent of girls ages 15-17 in Utah have seriously contemplated suicide, yet almost 40% of Utah’s depressed youth did not receive treatment.

Representative Steve Eliason said the report will be key to finding solutions.

“It’s a landmark report in terms of the state of the mental health system in Utah — what some of our challenges are. Some of them were quite surprising, even for those of us who have worked on this issue, but I think it also lays a roadmap for future reform,” he said.

Representative Eliason said Utah is already creating Mobile Crisis Outreach Teams through UNI located in several counties through the state. They act as unmarked ambulances to help people in need on location.

After the 2019 legislative session, Representative Eliason’s efforts helped fund four new psychiatry residency slots at the University of Utah for the next four years. He said they trying to find incentives to keep those new doctors practicing in the state.

The legislature also approved additional funding to increase resources for the SafeUT app and youth suicide prevention programs.

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