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Safe storage of guns to prevent suicides

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Key to suicide prevention is keeping guns away from at risk individuals

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4Utah) – Intermountain Healthcare has teamed with suicide prevention stakeholders across Utah to provide a free training course to help clinicians engage in life-saving conversations with at-risk patients about suicide. 

The course – Counseling on Access to Lethal Means (CALM-Utah) – provides skills and tools for clinicians to identify high-risk individuals, ask about their access to firearms and other fatal means of self-harm, and help individuals and families increase safety in a supportive and engaging manner. 

Putting time and distance between a person in crisis and a potentially-fatal means of committing suicide is one of the most effective prevention strategies. That’s a core component of Intermountain’s commitment to reduce the rate of suicide for individuals in communities in the Intermountain West. Over 700 health professionals in Utah have already taken the course since it launched in early 2019. 

“Reductions in access to lethal means saves lives. Many suicide attempts occur during a short-term crisis, so we can’t rely on mental health treatment as the only solution; we need to help people create safe home environments that enable them to survive an acute crisis and get the support they need,” said Morissa Henn, community health program director at Intermountain.

Henn says, ‘90% of people who survive even a very serious suicide attempt will not go on to die by suicide during their lives so a life saved in the short term is usually a life saved in the long term.’

Funded in part by the Kohl’s Cares Foundation, CALM-Utah was developed in collaboration with subject matter experts from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Utah Department of Human Services.

The training aligns with Utah’s statewide suicide prevention strategy and is available for free to any healthcare professional in Utah. Currently, all Utah crisis social workers are required to take the course. It’s available at https://www.train.org/utah/course/1081014/

“We know that so often a life saved in the short term is also a life saved in the long term, and lethal means safety is a critical tool in prevention efforts,” said Kim Myers, Utah suicide prevention and crisis services administrator. 

“Lethal means safety efforts are a key priority of the Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition and our state plan. Firearm safety and supporting friends and family in times of crisis are values so many of us share. Having tools like CALM-Utah to put those values into action to help prevent suicide is an important addition to our prevention efforts,” she added.

Last year, the Utah Legislature funded a study showing that 85 percent of firearm deaths in Utah are suicides, and most suicides are by firearm. The study also addressed the important role of healthcare systems in comprehensive, community-oriented prevention.

“Last session, the Utah Legislature passed legislation requiring all physicians to receive additional training on suicide prevention. I think the time spent taking this excellent course would be a wise investment of time by any practicing physician in Utah,” said Rep. Steve Eliason of Sandy.

“The number one cause of death for children aged 10 to 17 in Utah is suicide. Of the children who die by suicide in Utah, the primary method involves a firearm. Sadly, the firearm that’s most often used belongs to another family member, usually a parent,” Rep. Eliason said. “This short course helps train clinicians on how to educate others about these sad statistics and how through a few simple steps the number of tragic deaths can be reduced.”

Gun owners and advocates, including the Utah Shooting Council, have been major partners in this effort. They’ve helped share the message outside of healthcare settings and promoted secure gun storage and suicide prevention as crucial tenets of firearm safety.

“For too long, the issue of suicide by firearm has been an awkward and uncomfortable discussion among gun owners,” said Clark Aposhian, chair of the Utah Shooting Sports Council. “Through collaborative efforts like CALM-Utah, that’s finally changing. Conversations about gun storage and suicide risk can protect those we love while respecting our Second Amendment rights. This course helps gun owners and health professionals work together to prevent the tragedy of suicide.” 

To learn more about CALM-Utah, visit www.train.org/utahand search CALM-Utah.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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