Utah Governor Gary Herbert launched a suicide prevention task force last month in response to alarming teen suicide statistics.
The new task force, headed up by Lt. Gov. Spencer J. Cox and Rep. Steve Eliason, includes leaders from Intermountain Healthcare, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Equality Utah. Other notable members include Utah Jazz owner Gail Miller and suicide prevention advocate Taryn Aiken Hiatt.
“We recognize that these are ultimately personal decisions, and we will probably never reach zero percent, but there’s so much more that we can do,” Cox says.
The Utah Department of Health reported that youth suicide increased 141.3 percent in Utah from 2011 to 2015, a rate four times faster than the national average. And according to UDOH statistics, 44 youth aged 10 to 17 committed suicide in 2017.
In an interview, Cox explained that Herbert assigned him to the task force to emphasize the governor’s concern and sense of urgency. He assigned Rep. Eliason the role for his history of successful advocacy for suicide prevention. The task force will hold a press conference after reporting to the governor on Feb. 15.
In the last year, the Utah Legislature approved research into the cause of the increasing suicide rate in the state. According to Cox, the research has found that there are many causes to the increase in suicide, and a single cause remains hard to pin down.
“Of those who commit suicide, those who use firearms are successful at a much higher rate,” he says.
Cox hopes the task force will inform the public of this fact and encourage strategies to keep children and teens safe. Things such as lock boxes and trigger locks are simple solutions to prevent a successful suicide attempt.
During the interview, Cox outlined other main objectives of the task force, with organization being a big component.
“There are a lot of groups doing suicide prevention; what we’re hoping to do is figure out the best framework for [them] to move forward,” he says. “There are good things happening already, we’re not starting from scratch … we’re just trying to augment that and give them the support they need.”
The task force also hopes to look at best practices and rank them based on effectiveness and the legislature’s ability to scale and fund them.
Lastly, Cox hopes the task force will effectively get the word out and inspire conversation among families, youth groups, and those who don’t receive quality preventive care and those who don’t normally reach out, such as teens living in rural areas and the inner city.
Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts can call the 24-Hour National Suicide Prevention Hotline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255). There is an app called SafeUT which can provide support through messaging, calls, and tips.
The Behavioral Intervention Team at Salt Lake Community College has also shared tips and warning signs to educate students, faculty and staff.