How Utah communities are stepping up to youth suicide prevention

Suicide is the leading cause of death for Utah youth ages 10–17

Utah communities and schools — with the aid of the state’s suicide prevention task force — are placing more emphasis on prevention through heightened mental health resources and by asking others to take a more active role in the conversation.

Taryn Aiken, a member of the task force as well as a founding member of the Utah Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said prevention starts with education and reform. As a trained mental health professional, Aiken uses her expertise to educate others on suicide prevention and travels as a motivational speaker.

Aiken told BYU’s The Daily Universe that she shares her personal experience as someone who attempted suicide multiple times throughout her life and her intimate understanding as a daughter whose father died by suicide in 2002.

“We need to let people know that seeking help is a sign of courage and strength,” she said. “It’s okay to struggle, but you don’t have to do it alone.”

A peer-to-peer intervention group called the Hope Squad is another organization seeking to make a difference.

Greg Hudnall, founder and executive director of Hope4Utah said this peer-to-peer interaction is what has been missing from suicide prevention initiatives. According to Hudnall, it’s going to take more than health professionals and teachers to save Utah teens; it also needs to include the very teens that people are trying to protect.

The Hope Squad is formed by students. Students nominate fellow classmates who they feel comfortable sharing sensitive information with, and the top-nominated students come together as the Hope Squad, reports The Daily Universe. The students are trained to recognize the warning signs of suicide and alert adults to provide help.

The Hope Squad also works as a reference for community partners. According to Hudnall, Hope4Utah partners with a variety of local mental health organizations that can provide the necessary care and assistance for students who may be at risk for suicide.

The Jordan School District also recently implemented full-time psychologists in every elementary, middle and high school in the district.

Jordan School District Health and Wellness Specialist Mckinley Winters said these psychologists would give students more access to help inside and outside the school.

Recently, KSL’s Healthy Mind Matters radio show hosted Dr. Scott Whittle, a child psychiatrist and medical director for SelectHealth, along with Equality Utah Executive Director, Troy Williams to share their experiences with suicidal tendencies and prevention.

“The tough ones are when the child shows up at 15 or 16 years old and [they are] in that situation. They see themselves as being alone and are afraid to reach out to the people closest to them for solutions. They’re stuck for a period of time, and it can be a long and painful period of time,” said Whittle. “On the positive side, when the situation changes, when the person finds the courage to ask for help from the people that [they] have been afraid to ask for help, the great majority of the time, it goes really well.” 

The Healthy Mind Matters program focuses on addiction, mental health, and suicide prevention.

Crisis hotlines and resources:
Statewide Crisis Line: 801-587-3000
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text TALK to 74-741

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