Editorial: Urgency of Utah’s youth suicide task force can’t be overstated

With youth suicide rates in Utah continuing to rise at an alarming rate, sowing ever more tragedy in communities all over the state, it’s past time for strong action.

State officials seem to think so, too. Gov. Gary Herbert took a major step to address the issue recently when he announced the creation of a youth suicide task force. The mission of the group, which will include elected officials, religious leaders, representatives of the LGBT community and suicide experts, is to study the problem and propose several solutions by a Feb. 15 deadline.

That would be in time for the Utah Legislature to take action before the end of this year’s legislative session in March. That sense of urgency is critical when considering the prospect of how many lives could be lost by delaying implementation of concrete steps to combat the crisis another year.

If 2018 is similar to 2017 — and there are no indications the youth suicide rate is slowing — it could be dozens. Last year, 44 Utahns ages 10 to 17 committed suicide, according to preliminary data the Utah Department of Health recently released. That number is tied for the largest the agency has recorded dating back to 1999, when 12 people in that age group took their own lives.

The data makes the stakes clear. It’s hard to fathom the promise the futures of those 44 children — and the 201 other Utah youths who have committed suicide this decade — held. And the pain the loved ones they left behind have endured is unimaginable.

In Park City, the creation of the task force was met with enthusiasm, as several entities have made a community-wide push to address a broad range of mental health issues. Importantly, the Park City School District has been a leader of the effort, devoting significant resources to student wellness and fostering the creation of student peer groups in secondary schools trained in suicide prevention.

The fact that there are no easy fixes when it comes to youth suicide, though, and that no one community has all the answers makes the state task force’s work even more critical. The district and other local organizations can use as much help as they can get, be it in the form of fresh ideas, increased funding or other support.

It remains to be seen what answers the task force will ultimately find in a short time frame, but a crisis of this magnitude requires big thinking and bold action. There are too many lives on the line for the effort to yield anything less.

Information about suicide prevention can be found at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s website, Anyone having suicidal thoughts can also call 1-800-273-8255 for immediate assistance.

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