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Utah drops out of top 10 states for highest suicide rate, but experts remain concerned

May 12, 2023, 10:23 AM | Updated: 11:16 am

SALT LAKE CITY — For the first time in years, Utah is not in the top 10 states for the highest suicide rate. This comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released state rankings.

While some may be quick to applaud the improvement, Utah’s suicide experts share why they remain concerned.

Despite a worldwide pandemic and unprecedented stress and isolation, CDC data from 2021 shows Utah’s rate of suicide decreased while the nation’s continued to rise.

“We were really kind of bracing ourselves amidst a pandemic for what could happen, but Utah seems to have fared quite well in 2021,” Michael Staley, suicide prevention research coordinator at the Office of the Medical Examiner, said. “We actually saw one of our biggest single-year decreases in a long time, taking us to roughly the rate that we had last in 2014.”

Utah now ranks 14 for the highest suicide rate in the country when adjusted by age, but Staley said that doesn’t change the degree of emergency.

Utah fell out of the top ten for states with the highest rates of suicide in the nation. This comes as the CDC recently released state rankings from 2021. Utah now ranks 14th in the nation. (CDC)

“I would caution against any kind of celebration because 625-630 Utahns lost their lives to suicide in 2021, and that’s that many, too many,” he said. “This is very much a story still happening every day — still families being torn apart.”

Staley said Utah’s drop in rank actually indicates other states’ suicide rates growing worse.

“It’s significant that we saw improvement, but that also means that things got worse somewhere else, and I’m not going to celebrate tragedy somewhere else,” he said.

Rep. Steve Eliason of Sandy, a prolific sponsor of mental health legislation, shares the same sentiment.

“I’m happy to see that what we’re doing appears to be working, but we’ve got a lot more to do,” Eliason said. “I’m nowhere satisfied because we still lose far too many citizens and young people to suicide, so it’s an issue that we can’t take our foot off the gas.”

Though Staley says only formal evaluations of Utah’s suicide prevention efforts could show which strategies are working, in general, he believes Utah’s efforts are paying off.

“I am confident that the work that we’re doing is making an impact,” he said. “When I think about the number of people who are reaching out to 988 every day and getting the help they need, or the number of teens who are using the Safe UT app to get help and I hear success stories of people going to treatment.”

Staley recounted the story of a mother who was concerned about her son and believed he was potentially suicidal.

“She saw a billboard for Live On Utah, that said, ‘How to know if your teen is thinking about suicide? Ask.’ And that was all she needed,” he said.

Staley and Eliason both commend the efforts of local partners and individuals.

“My appreciation goes out to many of our local partners and local coalitions, who are the folks that are promoting and meeting with families and parents and teachers and people who are experiencing crises and working through that with them,” Staley said.

“It’s a huge collaborative effort with parents, families, friends, schools, 988, warmlines, Safe UT, Hope Squads — we have all sorts of resources out there to help people to remind them that life’s worth living,” Eliason said.

Staley noted Utah’s neighbors — other Rocky Mountain states like Montana, Wyoming and Idaho — did not fall out of the top 10 states for the highest incidence of suicide in the nation.

Eliason said Utah always compares itself relative to its neighbors who also face similar conditions like high elevation.

All day Friday, KSL TV is dedicating its coverage to Teens In Crisis. The CDC published results of a concerning survey earlier this year, reporting increased sadness and mental distress among teen girls, LGBTQ+ youth and minority groups. We’ll look into what efforts are being made right here in Utah to help our youth.

Suicide prevention resources

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or exhibiting warning signs, call, text, or chat the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 which is answered 24/7/365 by crisis counselors at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute. All calls to legacy crisis hotlines, including the old National Suicide Prevention hotline, 1-800-273-8255, will also connect to a crisis care worker at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute as well.

Additional resources

  • SafeUT: Parents, students, and educators can connect with a licensed crisis counselor through chat by downloading the SafeUT app or by calling 833-3SAFEUT (833-372-3388)
  • SafeUT Frontline: First responders, including firefighters, law enforcement, EMS, and healthcare professionals can chat with a licensed crisis counselor at no cost 24/7/365 by downloading the SafeUT Frontline app.
  • SafeUTNG: Members of the National Guard can chat with a licensed crisis counselor at no cost 24/7/365 by downloading the SafeUTNG app.
  • Utah Warm Line: For non-crisis situations, when you need a listening ear as you heal and recover from a personal struggle, call 1-833 SPEAKUT 8:00 a.m.-11:00 p.m., 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
  • The Huntsman Mental Health Institute offers a wide variety of programs and services including suicide prevention and crisis services, hospital treatment, therapy & medication management, substance Use & addiction recovery, child & teen programs, and maternal mental health services including birth trauma, pregnancy loss, infertility, and perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.
  • LiveOnUtah.org is a statewide effort to prevent suicide by promoting education, providing resources, and changing Utah’s culture around suicide and mental health. They offer resources for faith based groups, LGBTQ+, youth, employers, firearm suicide prevention, and crisis and treatment options.

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Utah drops out of top 10 states for highest suicide rate, but experts remain concerned