Rate of suicide increasing in Utah, but so are prevention resources and their use

Dec 8, 2023, 10:49 AM | Updated: 10:54 am

Buttons for Live On Utah, a suicide prevention and mental health campaign, on Nov. 9, 2021. The Uta...

Buttons for Live On Utah, a suicide prevention and mental health campaign, on Nov. 9, 2021. The Utah Department of Health and Human Services said Wednesday the suicide rate went up in 2022, but the use of prevention resources went up, too. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

(Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Suicide rates in Utah rose in 2022 compared to 2021 by 12%, with 717 deaths from suicide, according to the Utah Department of Health and Human Services.

But along with that, the number of people using state resources for suicide prevention — like Safe UT apps, the 988 hotline and the Live On Utah website — have also all increased, Carol Ruddell said.

Ruddell, the department’s administrator for suicide prevention, said although there was a 12% increase in the last year, the rate has stabilized and numbers have decreased over the past five years.

“I guess I’m looking forward to next year,” she said. “I like to see how we do across time.”

She said numbers often go up in the years after a major event, like a pandemic, and suicide rates across the U.S. have gone up as well.

“Even if our numbers are going up, people are reaching out — and that’s a good thing,” she said. “Despite the numbers, we have some good things happening in Utah.”

She said legislators have invested in suicide resources over the last few years. Ruddell speaks with people overseeing suicide resources in other states as part of her job, and said Utah has more resources available than many other states, although there are still gaps.

‘Every Utahn can make a difference’

The Live On campaign has online trainings designed specifically for youth, faith groups, the workplace, veterans and other categories. Trainings are also available in Spanish.

“There’s no question suicide prevention is hard work, but we also believe it’s ‘heart’ work,” Ruddell said. “When I hear people really stepping up, whether it’s in business or in faith groups or just community organizations, that does my heart good. I feel like now we’re making a difference because we’re reaching everyone.”

She also says “there’s never a wrong time to call 988” — it’s not just for emergencies or when someone is suicidal. Ruddell said over 90% of the calls are resolved on the phone.

Anyone can listen to how people are talking, she said, and if they seem hopeless or are acting different from normal, ask a question.

“Every Utahn can make a difference to prevent suicide, without a doubt,” she said, adding that people need to get past being awkward or uncomfortable, because saying something can save a life.

“Connecting with people, helping them feel seen and feel valued — that prevents suicide,” she said.

Dr. Michelle Hofmann, deputy director of the department, said the increase in suicide rates in 2022 is a “call to action.”

“Seek training and know what to do when someone is experiencing a crisis. And when you need help, ask for it: call 988, talk to someone you trust, and get the support you need,” Hofmann said in a statement.

Michael Staley, suicide prevention research coordinator with the Utah Department of Health and Human Services, said talking about suicide, and making it OK for people and particularly men to ask for help is important.

“There is more work to be done,” he said.

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.

Counties in Utah provide services for mental health and substance use disorders. Centers are run by the thirteen Local Mental Health and Substance Use Authorities all across the state and offer therapy, substance use disorder treatment, support groups, mobile services, youth treatment, and more.

These resources and more information can be found here: https://www.uacnet.org/behavioralhealth.

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Rate of suicide increasing in Utah, but so are prevention resources and their use