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Suicide Prevention: A Personal Story Of Surviving Loss

I saw my nephew walking down the street last week. I turned and there he was on the sidewalk. Only it wasn’t him – just a boy who looked a lot like him. It took my breath away. Not only was he not on that sidewalk, he also wasn’t at Sunday dinner this week. All the other kids were there, voting on whether to watch The Lorax or Alvin and the Chipmunks, but he wasn’t.

He also wasn’t at his high school graduation last spring, or at homecoming, or in line at the DMV getting his first driver’s license. He wasn’t any of those places because he died on May 1, 2017.

Suicide at 16.

His brain betrayed him, and his death tore an irreparable hole through our family. While the initial shock has eased, and the sadness ebbs and flows, the ripple effects of his loss will be felt forever.

My nephew died one month after my cousin, also a suicide. He was 39.

“How could you lose two people from one family in one month by suicide,” you ask?

Yeah, exactly. How?

As I write this that question still bounces around in my mind. How? Why? You think, “That’s sad, but it’s not something that could happen to me… to my family.” I thought the same thing. Then it did.

September 8-14th is National Suicide Prevention week. September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day. In my world, every day is about prevention. It’s a cause that was given to me in the spring of 2017.

To prevent something, first you have to be aware. According to Utah public health data, suicide was the leading cause of death for Utahns ages 10-24 in 2017. It was the second leading cause of death for ages 25-44. While those statistics are alarming, suicide rates appear to be leveling off, or going down in Utah.

That goes against the national trend. Part of that progress comes after the state put focused attention on this as a public initiative. It’s a crisis that needs the attention of families, schools, communities and government working together.

Utah’s Suicide Prevention Task Force

In the fall of 2017, Governor Gary Herbert formed a suicide prevention task force, comprised of experts, lawmakers, business and religious leaders. The task force is co-chaired by Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and Rep. Steve Eliason.

The results of the task force’s efforts have been significant legislation and increased funding for suicide prevention. During the last legislative session, HB373 passed, appropriating $26 million in funding to increase mental health resources in schools.

In 2018, HB370 provided grants for higher education to implement the school safety crisis line and the development of new mobile crisis teams. Hannah’s Bill, named after 16-year-old Hannah Warburton, who died by suicide after failing to reach a counselor by phone, ensured that the suicide prevention hotlines around the state would be staffed by trained crisis intervention workers 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

On a federal level, Utah lawmakers have also led out. Congressman Chris Stewart and Former Senator Orrin Hatch were instrumental in successful legislation for a 3-digit crisis line, 988.

It’s progress, but there’s still more work to do.

Out of Darkness Walk at Liberty Park

If you want to understand just how prevalent suicide is, and how it crosses all demographics – age, race, economic, gender – go take a walk Saturday morning at Liberty Park. It’s the annual Out of Darkness Walk at Liberty Park, hosted by the Utah Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Bonneville Salt Lake stations, KSL, FM 100.3, and Arrow 103.7 are proud sponsors of the event.

Thousands of people will fill the park, walking on behalf of someone they love. Someone they’ve lost. You will see moms and children walking for their lost husbands and dads. Husbands walking in honor of their wives. Grandparents walking for their lost grandchildren. Moms and dads walking for their sons and daughters. Aunts, uncles, cousins and friends all walking in memory of someone who is gone. T-shirts and signs everywhere you turn with the names and pictures of those who didn’t survive a devastating disease of the mind.

Walk and talk with the people left behind, it will open your eyes and break your heart.

Prevention Requires All Of Us

If I had a wish, it would be that no other family ever has to go through what our family has, and what thousands of other families have endured. No one else would ever know the devastation of suicide loss. No other person, adult or child, would feel the pain or struggle that leads them to believe this is the only way.

Intermountain HealthCare and the University of Utah, which are both represented on the governor’s task force, share that wish, too. Last year, Intermountain instituted a Zero Suicide program. University Health Care is in the process of evaluating the same initiative.

They want to eliminate death by suicide.

It’s an aspirational goal, but the fact that organizations like these are willing to try is remarkable. Stopping even one death is worth the effort.

Please, Seek Help

For those who are suffering silently, please ask for help. You are not alone. This is a treatable disease. And, the world is not better off without you.

Sign up for the Out of Darkness walk at afsp.donordrive.com.

Related: Brother’s death sends woman on mental health mission

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

In an emergency

  • Call the police
  • Go to the emergency room

If you’re in Utah help your teens download the SafeUT app. It’s free and puts help in the palm of their hand. https://safeut.med.utah.edu/

 

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