September is National Suicide Prevention Month. Utah and the Intermountain West have one of the highest suicide rates in the United States, and suicide is the leading cause of death among Utah’s youth ages 10-17.
Utah’s suicide rate (20.3 per 100,000 people) is similar to the rest of the Intermountain West but exceeds the national rate (13.9 per 100,000 people). The suicide rate varies by other demographic characteristics as well, with the highest rates in Utah among white and American Indian males who are middle-aged or older than age 75.
In 2019, Utah ranked 44th on combined adult and youth measures in the Mental Health American rankings. This low overall ranking indicates a higher prevalence of mental illness and lower access to care.
Approximately 32% of the U.S. population is affected by a mental health disorder in any given year. About 18% of Utah adults experienced mental and emotional distress during the past month.
Mental health and mental disorders can be influenced by numerous conditions including biological and genetic vulnerabilities, acute or chronic physical health conditions, and environmental conditions and stresses.
Zero Suicide Goal
In 2018, Intermountain Healthcare made a bold commitment to Zero Suicide and set a goal to reduce the rate of suicide among its patients and geographic areas by 10% by the end of 2022.
The strategy is relatively simple: improve access to effective behavioral health treatment, shift attitudes and social norms to support protective behaviors, and reduce risk during periods of acute crisis, and in turn, reduce both the likelihood and fatality of suicide attempts.
Over 50,000 caregivers and community members have completed Intermountain-supported training to enhance their confidence and competence in supporting colleagues, family, friends, and themselves at times of mental and emotional distress.
Lethal Means Access
Intermountain Healthcare has been collaborating with the Utah Shooting Sports Council and key community partners to develop and distribute educational materials and more than 30,000 free gun locks to gun owners throughout Utah.
This collaborative effort is designed to help Utah families and loved ones increase safety in their homes.
“Reducing the time needed between suicidal ideation and accessing a lethal means is critical and life-saving. This includes the access to firearms and prescriptions,” said Kristy Jones, Intermountain’s community health director. “Utah gun owners and gun groups have been a major force to make a difference in reducing death by suicide and unintentional injury through promoting and enabling safe firearm storage and education.”
This initiative is especially important right now, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic when firearm sales in Utah have increased, and psychological stresses have been heightened. Although, the suicide rates did not increase for adults or children in Utah during the pandemic, and suicide prevention advocates have worked hard to help.
Gun locks and safe gun storage are important safety measures especially when someone is at risk for suicide. Intermountain and the Utah Shooting Sports Council have come together on this issue, recognizing that firearms are the leading method of suicide in the state, and putting time and distance between a gun and a person in a crisis can save a life.
There Is Help
Providing a virtual connection to behavioral health services is also essential in this work. Telebehavioral health allows experts to reach underserved populations (especially in rural areas) more effectively and to treat them in the comfort and privacy of their homes, reducing the need to arrange time off work, transportation, and childcare. In 2020, Intermountain launched the Emotional Health Relief Hotline and Connect Care Behavioral Health.
The Relief Hotline during the COVID-19 pandemic received over 6,500 calls. It expanded this year to include more services, resources, and virtual help with the new Behavioral Health Navigation Line (833-442-2211).
Medical caregivers answer the hotline to help people navigate challenges. Anyone can call for free to speak to a caregiver and talk through their concerns and problems. Situations can range from daily stress to critical situations. Anyone can call the Behavioral Health Navigation Line. It’s available 7 days a week from 7 am to 7 pm. Translation services are available.
Underrepresented groups are more likely to experience persistent and severe mental illness and encounter barriers when accessing critical services and supports. As the state of Utah, Intermountain, and community partners continue their work together to address these issues and the needs of Utah’s mental well-being.
What can you do?
Take action if you are worried about someone, talk to your family and friends about stressors and check in on them as well. Ensure that you have secured any firearms or medications safely and away from access for someone at risk Please reach out to your family doctor, therapist if you need mental health resources.
Suicide Prevention Month
September is Suicide Prevention Month and there will be several awareness events to bring that focus forward. AFSP has its awareness walks on September 11th, as well as NUHOPE Suicide Prevention Walk in Ogden on September 18. The NUHOPE Awareness walk will feature guest speaker Ed Smart. To sign up for the free event, visit their website.
You can also reach out to the free Intermountain Healthcare’s Behavioral Health Navigation Line (833-442-2211) seven days a week, from 7 am to 7 pm. Connect Care for Behavioral Health also allows getting virtual visits with providers.
If you or someone you know needs immediate support, contact the Utah Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255, 24/7).