Physical isolation may be important these days, but emotional isolation proves to be deadly.
According to data from the Utah Department of Health, suicide among Utahns has been consistently higher than the national average, and suicide currently ranks as the second-leading cause of death in the state.
According to a 2019 article by The Salt Lake Tribune, the suicide rate in Utah incrementally improved from a rate of 22.7 per 100,000 people in 2017, to 22.2 in 2018, to 21.79 in 2019.
KSL radio reported that the UDOH anticipated a surge in suicides during the COVID-19 pandemic, but new resources, like the SafeUT app, have proven effective to help those who are willing to use its services.
However, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a report detailing a 31% increase in mental health related hospital emergencies for those ages 12-17 years of age in the spring of 2020, compared to the previous year.
Still, personal finances company WalletHub released a study on Sep. 14, naming Utah the happiest state in the country. The company based its results on three metrics: emotional and physical wellbeing, work environment, and community environment. Utah took the top spot in two of the three categories, but ninth place for emotional and physical wellbeing.
Members of the SLCC community were surprised and confused by Utah’s new title.
Jenny Williams, a counselor with Salt Lake Community College’s Center for Health and Counseling, questioned the methodology of the study and the level of detail that went into it.
“I would like to know how was this study conducted and how do they know if they are asking the right questions,” Williams pondered. “I don’t know many people who would feel comfortable telling their darkest secrets, or how they are really feeling, to a complete stranger.”
Lauren Kelley, who also works at the SLCC Redwood Center for Health and Counseling, said such studies can often be inaccurate for a variety of reasons.
“Along with having a high suicide rate, Utah has a high anti-depressant and opioid addiction rate,” Kelley said. “How are they sure that they are asking the right people? Maybe people are lying on the form, or however they are being asked. It is good to see [Utah’s ranking] but is the information given accurate?”
For SLCC student and psychology major Nyal Smith, the study’s findings are more complex than Utah being granted the title of the “happiest state.”
“I come from a faith background [The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints], one I have since left, which is all about maintaining the image of happiness,” Smith said. “We are artificially happy.”
In the 12 months preceding a 2019 Youth Risk Assessment Survey, recorded by UDOH, Utah high school students reported the following: 36.7% felt sad or hopeless, 22.3% seriously considered attempting suicide, 18.7% made a suicide plan, 9.3% attempted suicide one or more times, and 2.1% made a suicide attempt that required medical attention.
There is now a contingent effort by lawmakers to help alleviate this burden on Utah’s youth, evidenced by the introduction and adoption of new bills concerning mental health issues into the legislature. An approved bill from February 2021 detailed the availability of a mental health day for students.
“Some of our youths are in some dark places at times,” Rep. Mike Winder said in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune. “If they know they can be excused from school for their mental health, that alone can relieve some pressure and help reduce suicides.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of self-harm or suicide, call the free, 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).