Letter: It takes a whole community to help reduce suicide
Deseret News - 3/11/2019
Utah’s greatest asset is its people. We work hard and look out for each other. And Utahns continually impress me with their compassion and their willingness to tackle daunting obstacles.
One such challenge that has reached crisis level in recent years is Utah’s suicide epidemic. I’ve written publicly before about one of my children who struggled with suicidal thoughts, and people close to me have lost friends or loved ones to suicide. The loss of a single life to this heartbreaking affliction is a crisis on the individual and family level, and the impact ripples throughout our community.
As Utahns, we must engage in this battle. And for policymakers, we must continue to prioritize policy interventions that have the potential to save lives.
That’s why suicide prevention is one of my priority issues as a mother, as a Salt Lake County Council member and as a Utahn. I’m grateful to the local, state and federal leaders who have championed this issue, and I’m deeply encouraged by the progress we’ve made.
As I’ve worked with my fellow members of the state Mental Health Crisis Response Commission over the past year, we’ve come up with a number of policy recommendations that I believe could make a tremendous difference. Some of these policy recommendations are being heard on the Hill as the legislative session progresses.
SB219 appropriates funds to pilot mental health receiving centers and establish a statewide stabilization services plan and standards. Imagine you have a family member in crisis. Instead of taking them to an emergency room, a receiving center can give immediate help and specializes in behavioral health issues. It would also be a great resource for our law enforcement officers, who can take those who are mentally ill to a place other than an ER or jail. It is imperative that we give residents immediate help when they are experiencing a mental health crisis.
Another bill, HB393, funds the statewide suicide prevention plan and helps educate health care providers. We need health care providers who can watch for signs of behavioral health crises.
We must provide better mental health access for our children. That’s why our commission recommended funding for mental health providers in more schools. Rep. Steve Eliason’s bill, HB373, provides historic funding for school counselors, psychologists, social workers and nurses in our schools. This would give support to all schools so they can use that funding for the positions they see fit.
We have a statewide suicide prevention lifeline, where you can talk with a professional 24/7 if you or a loved one is in crisis: 1-800-273-TALK. The SafeUT app is also a great resource. If you are a parent of a teen or young adult, this is a crisis intervention app that you should put on your phone and encourage your child to download it as well. It provides a chat function, as well as a tip line.
These and other public policy interventions are important steps. But this crisis cannot be solved by public policy alone. Though we’ll fight for funding and resources to ensure Utah’s mental health system is up to the task, we cannot do it without your help. Call your legislators and encourage them to get on board. It will take all of us to make a difference and to stop this epidemic.
CREDIT: Aimee Winder Newton, Deseret News