Some Utah suicide hotlines are going to voicemail

Posted at 1:14 PM, Jan 23, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-23 17:53:23-05

SALT LAKE CITY — A state senator is calling for Utah to devote more resources to ensuring crisis hotlines are actually being answered and by qualified people.

Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, said some suicide hotlines in rural areas of Utah are not being staffed 24-hours a day, so when someone calls for help — it goes to voicemail. He’s been pushing for a series of bills for mental health and suicide prevention, including the creation of a statewide three digit crisis hotline (similar to 911). He also wants to create a crisis response unit, similar to a paramedic, that can be dispatched to deal with a mental health problem.

The problem, Sen. Thatcher said, is when people call 911 in a mental health crisis, they are getting an emergency dispatcher who is not qualified or even able to get them help. So he’s proposing spending $2 million in taxpayer dollars to staff the phones at the University of Utah’s Neuropsychiatric Unit so people can have someone to answer.

On the suicide hotline problem, Sen. Thatcher said he knows of cases where a victim’s phone has shown the reached out for help — and the call was unanswered. He said the state of Utah bears some responsibility for that by not providing resources.

A pair of his bills passed the Utah Senate on Tuesday easily and now go to the House for consideration. Speaking to reporters, Sen. Thatcher said Utahns need to end the stigma around mental health.

“When you hear that a neighbor has a cancer diagnosis you bring ‘em a casserole. You hear that a neighbor has a depression or a mental health diagnosis and you gossip,” he said. “And I wish it weren’t true, but I think you know that it is.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, help is available 24/7 by calling 1-800-273-TALK. Utahns can also visit Hope4Utah and the Suicide Prevention Resource Center for additional resources. You can also download the SafeUT app for instant, confidential crisis services.