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Utah’s suicide rate remains flat, more people reaching out for help

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s suicide rate has leveled out, and suicide prevention advocates said it’s a win for years’ worth of efforts.

Suicide deaths stay flat

According to data released by the Utah Department of Health, the state’s rate of suicide deaths has remained statistically stagnant since 2015.

On average, 640 Utahns die by suicide each year. Emergency departments see about 6,500 people every year for suicide-related behaviors. These numbers have consistently put Utah in the top 10 states for the highest suicide rate per capita for years.

The fact Utah has not seen an increase in suicide rates is a good thing, said Carol Ruddell, suicide prevention and crisis services administrator for the Utah Department of Human Services.

“That is absolutely worth celebrating,” she exclaimed. “When you consider the fact that Utah’s population goes up every year, but our suicide deaths have not, that they have remained flat, that’s absolutely worth celebrating. Doesn’t mean we’re done, but it is absolutely a win.”

More people seeking help

Another encouraging number released Thursday: More Utahns are reaching out for help when they experience suicidal thoughts or feel in crisis.

“We saw a 24% increase between August 2020 and August 2021 in the number of people who call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline,” said Michael Staley, suicide prevention research coordinator with the Utah Department of Health.

Calls to suicide hotlines have steadily increased for many years, said Staley. “This increase doesn’t appear to be solely pandemic-related,” he explained.

A five-year plan to continue prevention efforts

Based on this new data, the Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition released its updated strategic plan to guide policy and prevention efforts for the next five years.

The plan lists seven key areas to focus these efforts:

  • Increase availability and access to quality physical and behavioral health care
  • Increase social norms supportive of help-seeking and recovery
  • Reduce access to lethal means
  • Increase connectedness to individuals, family, community and social institutions by creating safe and supportive school and community environments
  • Increase coping and problem-solving skills
  • Increase support to survivors of suicide loss
  • Strengthen economic supports

An emphasis on more comprehensive data collection for suicide deaths was also listed as a priority.

Ruddell, suicide prevention and crisis services administrator for the Utah Department of Human Services, said a change from strategic plans of years past included an emphasis on support for communities more at risk for suicide.

“Bringing those perspectives is essential,” she said. “We have a variety of individuals represented in our state, and their lives are just as important.”

When examining the suicide rates for different racial groups in Utah, American Indians and Native Alaskan suicide deaths far outpace any other category. American Indian men have died by suicide at approximately double the rate of white men.

Utah’s plan lists specific ways to target those more at risk, including expanding LGBTQ+ -specific mental health and crisis resources; creating safe, equitable environments for black, indigenous, and people of color; and more outreach with resources and training in workplaces and schools.

Continuing efforts and emphasizing personal outreach

Kayden Milburn wishes Jack Naylor was still here.

“We immediately clicked, and he was one of my best friends,” Milburn said. “He was just one of those people everybody knew because as soon as he walked into the room, his energy was so vibrant.”

Naylor died from suicide in 2017.

“It was just really hard for me to cope with it,” said Milburn. “We had so much planned for the future.”

Milburn said talking about suicide is taboo in the black community.

Kayden Milburn checks in on friends (KSL TV)

“There’s a stigma, where it’s a sign of weakness,” he explained.

As Ruddell pointed out, talking about it and creating a supportive environment is a huge part of suicide prevention. “91% of Utahns have had experience with a suicide death,” she said. “That’s all of us. We can make a difference if we talk about it.”

Ruddell said Utah lawmakers and agencies have made suicide prevention a priority in recent years, putting many programs and resources in place that have had a positive effect.

The Governor’s Live On campaign shared stories from survivors to help change how Utahns talk about suicide, along with sharing resources for help.

The SafeUT app offers confidential crisis support to students in the palm of their hands.

Several bills have passed in previous legislative sessions allocating funding for research and outreach on suicide prevention. For Milburn, he takes the mental health of his loved ones as a personal mission, with regular check-ins.

“Once a month or once a week, we just text each other and just have the intention and set the space where if we have anything weighing on us, we can talk about it,” he explained.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call 1-800-273-TALK.

For more resources for mental health help, substance abuse treatment, and coping with loss, visit Live On Utah for a complete list of local resources.

Suicide prevention resources

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or exhibiting warning signs, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Utah Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, which is answered 24/7/365 by crisis counselors at Huntsman Mental Health Institute.

You can also text TALK to 741741 and parents, students, and educators can download the SafeUT app chat or call 833-3SAFEUT to connect with a licensed crisis counselor.

Additional resources

  • Parents, students, and educators can download the SafeUT app chat or call 833-3SAFEUT to connect with a licensed crisis counselor.
  • First responders, including firefighters, law enforcement, EMS, and healthcare professionals, can chat with a crisis counselor at no cost 24/7/365 by downloading the SafeUT Frontline app and members of the National Guard can access help through the SafeUTNG app.
  • For non-crisis situations, when you need a listening ear as you heal and recover from a personal struggle, call the Utah Warm Line at 1-833 SPEAKUT 8:00 a.m.-11:00 p.m., 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
  • At Huntsman Mental Health Institute, women can access maternal mental health services including birth trauma, pregnancy loss, infertility, and perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.
  • LiveOnUtah.org, a campaign by the Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition offers suicide prevention training and has resources for faith-based groups, youth, LGBTQ+, and Employers.

Other community-based organizations that provide suicide prevention services, support groups, mental health education, counseling services and support:

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
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