Utah youth suicide prevention task force report reflects strategies employed in Summit County and in schools | ParkRecord.com

Utah youth suicide prevention task force report reflects strategies employed in Summit County and in schools

Recommendations put forth by Gov. Gary Herbert's Teen Suicide Prevention Task Force and statements made by Utah leaders last week are a welcome sign that Summit County and Utah leaders are in agreement on how to tackle the problem, local mental health advocates say.

"I was thrilled. … It was affirming to see that we are strategically on the same page at a state, local and county level," said Mary Christa Smith, Communities That Care coordinator for the Summit County Mental Wellness Alliance.

Herbert convened the committee, which includes a diverse set of members ranging from LDS church leaders to LGBTQ advocates, in response to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that the number of young Utahns who have taken their own lives jumped 141 percent over the span of a few years.

"It's not rocket science to know we've got a problem," said Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy. Eliason, a co-author of the report alongside Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and the sponsor of legislation that addresses the task force's recommendations, said the group's work isn't done and that the now-codified committee's efforts will continue in the future.

The 5-page report, which can be found at utah.gov, notes that the task force did not investigate every program in the state or conduct studies, but rather brought forth information already available and in practice. According to Eliason, the Salt Lake University Neuropsychiatric Institute suicide prevention lifeline received a bump in contacts after the report was released.

Smith noted that Utah officials known for their social conservatism, like Herbert and Sen. Orrin Hatch, have been vocal in addressing the epidemic's effect on LGBTQ youth in Utah. While sexuality and gender identity weren't tracked for every case, the CDC report pointed to a statistically high proportion of cases involving individuals identifying as LGBTQ.

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"I was pleased that the (Utah Department of Health) recognized the need to make sure that gathering this particular information is institutionalized to better understand the unique risks faced by LGBTQ youth," said Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, in a statement last December after the release of the CDC's report.

Alyssa Mitchell, a health educator with the Summit County Health Department, said the report reinforced strategies Summit County officials have already been implementing, such as the QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) method of responding to a crisis and HOPE Squads, a network of more than 5,000 peer educators and responders located in schools statewide.

The QPR method is modeled after its physical counterpart CPR. People trained in administering QPR to a person in crisis are not counselors; rather, they're rapid responders to the scene. Mitchell and Smith said QPR is an essential part of local advocates' plans to curb youth suicide.

Mitchell and a group of Summit County high school students were at Capitol Hill to witness the passage of Eliason's bill and meet with the area's representatives last week.

Kaycee Staley, a senior at North Summit High School and a HOPE Squad member, said being one of the first lines in the prevention of suicide was initially daunting. However, helping her fellow students and lifting them up has become its own reward.

"It really helped me to feel better about myself, and then it helped me to help others feel better about themselves, which is, I think, a goal that all of us in North Summit should have," Staley said.

The need for groups like hers is obvious when one looks at the numbers.

Almost a quarter of local students have seriously considered attempting suicide in the last year, according to the Summit County Health Department.

Rep. Logan Wilde, R-Croydon, was one of the local legislators the Summit County group met with at the Capitol. Wilde, who was part of the unanimous House approval of Eliason's bill, said it'll take advocates, state and federal officials, and government agencies working together to end the trend.

Smith said that when it comes to saving the lives of young Utahns, students like Staley are taking the most important step.

"I'm so impressed with the compassion and the leadership and the care that students in Summit County are showing … in all three school districts," Smith said. "We know that kids talk to each other, they are on social media with one another, and they are often able to recognize the signs with their peers when they're struggling."

Suicide prevention resources

Who to contact

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Summit County Mental Health Crisis Line

(435) 649-9079

Where to go

SafeUT is a smartphone app that allows quick, anonymous access to 24/7 crisis prevention and resolution resources.

Peace House provides counseling free of charge.

Jewish Family Services, Christian Center of Park City and Valley Behavioral Health provide reduced rates for counseling based on income.

How to help

The Summit County Health Department is capable of hosting bilingual QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) training sessions for any interested groups or organizations.

Summit County CONNECT accepts donations and has volunteer opportunities for those who want to promote mental health awareness and make a dent in stigmas.

The People’s Health Clinic in Park City is in need of bilingual mental health service providers.

Hope Squads at local schools provide support for their peers and quick response to mental health crises, as well as fostering positive environments and reducing stigmas in their schools.