‘We cannot stand idly by anymore and let people die;’ Suicide task force releases report

Posted at 4:57 PM, Feb 20, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-20 20:22:52-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- A new report has been made public demanding more action to combat Utah's outrageously high suicide rate.

It was prepared by a task force of health advocates, community activists, political leaders and religious groups. Faced with Utah's shockingly high youth suicide rate (140% above the national average), Governor Gary Herbert called the situation an emergency.

Doves symbolizing suicide victims and those contemplating suicide are released on the steps of the Utah State Capitol on Feb. 20, 2018. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

The report calls for more to be done to improve crisis response, including expansion of a statewide crisis hotline, more resources for the SafeUT app, more training for people in schools and with overall mental health outreach. It also demands more be done on firearm safety and public outreach to get people to talk about suicide. The report called for better data collection in schools to identify people at risk.

"No one wants to die. People want to get rid of the pain and we’re trying to help facilitate that and make this happen," said Lt. Governor Spencer Cox.

Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, said youth suicides could be cut in half if parents would ensure firearms are safely, removing easy access.

"Use a trigger cable lock or a gun safe to secure their firearms. Every child we’ve lost this year in Utah died by firearm," he said Wednesday.

Utah State Schools Superintendent Sydnee Dickson said she wanted to see more done to reach children from elementary to high school, giving them more resources and better ways to cope with stress.

"We’re asking for more mental health counselors for elementary schools," she said.

Some of those requests cost money. Gov. Herbert asked for the task force report in the middle of the 2018 legislative session so that any funding requests can be dealt with by lawmakers.

Members of the youth suicide task force present their recommendations. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

Gov. Herbert said he was pleased with the task force's work and recommendations. However, he said he would expand it to focus beyond youth suicide. The governor took particular note of groups with higher suicide rates: Native Americans, LGBTQ children and veterans.

For example, the task force is recommending students be anonymously asked their sexual orientation in a survey on at-risk behaviors. The gay rights group Equality Utah, which is on the task force, said "good data" will help drive resources.

"I think this is an issue that conservatives and liberals and religious folks and non-religious folks can all agree on," said Equality Utah executive director Troy Williams. "Kids should not be taking their own lives."

Many suicide prevention advocates demanded there be more than just talk, but action as well. Taryn Hiatt, whose father committed suicide, said she planned to push the Utah State Legislature to actually do something to save lives.

"I’m going to make dang sure we do something," she told FOX 13. "Because we cannot stand by idly anymore and let people die."

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.

Read the task force's report here: