Utah’s youth suicide rate continued to rise in 2017, hitting levels far above the national average. This increase has prompted the state government to help create a youth suicide task force, but will such an initiative address the mental health crisis at hand?
Lawmakers, health experts, religious and communities leaders and members of the public gathered at City Hall in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, February 20, to discuss this problem and discuss the new task force.
The Daily Universe reports:
According to Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, the task force’s major objectives are improving crisis response, reducing risk factors and enhancing protective factors.
“No one wants to end their life,” Cox said. “They want to end the pain, and we can’t end the pain if we don’t talk about the pain. So we are going to talk about the pain more and we are going to have these conversations that we think are going to be hard.”
Cox said these conversations aren’t as hard as people think and that having them will save lives.
It’s estimated that suicide is the leading cause of death for 10 to 24 year-olds in Utah, with one person expected to die by suicide every 14 hours. This number is significantly higher than the national average, and the figure continued to rise in 2017, indicating that the problem could worsen.
When speaking about the event, Governor Gary Herbert highlighted that for every one death by suicide, national averages suggest there will be at least 25 other attempts.
TASK FORCE RECOMMENDATIONS
The task force, which was formed on the heels of a federal report that criticized the state for not having appropriate mechanisms in place to deal with this crisis, brings together a range of people with varied perspectives on how to best tackle youth suicide.
Over the past few months, the group reportedly looked at a range of data and expert opinions in order to form several goals and recommendations to help address the crisis. Those fall into three broad categories: improving crisis response, reducing risk factors and enhancing suicide prevention.
The task force has focused on directing funding toward crisis response in particular, meaning that people who may be at risk of suicide can access the help they need.
The SafeUT app is just one innovation supported by the task force. This mobile phone application will enable every higher education school to provide confidential and discrete mental health messaging to students in need. The program will also enable people to lodge concerns about their friends.
A press release from Utah’s attorney general’s office notes:
Statistics devastatingly show that suicide is the number one cause of death of Utah children ages 10-17. In addition, our schools and communities are facing crisis-level safety concerns,” said Attorney General Sean Reyes. “Because of such alarming realities statewide, our office has worked closely and in a very bipartisan manner with legislators, agencies, parents and advocates to find the right solution. Today, we unveil the SafeUT mobile app for 24/7 crisis intervention and emotional support to any student facing mental health crisis or safety threats. We are both excited about and hopeful that such a resource will provide a lifeline to students who feel they have nowhere else to turn and that life is not worth living anymore.
There are of course helplines like the Trevor helpline already in place, but this intervention at the more personal community level could be invaluable and will certainly be something to watch closely.
Interestingly, the the task force did not shy away from the issue of gun access, saying that locking guns in safes and otherwise making them unusable via a gun-lock distribution program will be a key intervention for preventing young people from following through on their suicidal thoughts.
The working group also wants better access to medical and therapy services that can help people who are suffering from suicidal thoughts. By streamlining this process and providing additional funds, mental health advocates hope that young people will get affordable access to care.
But the key question remains: Will this all help to prevent Utah’s suicide problem from escalating? That’s yet to be determined, but suicide prevention charities view these steps as a positive action plan — and one that must be enacted without delay.