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Utah Looks to Expand Suicide Prevention Efforts

Suicide is on the rise in Utah; and mental health professionals are at the Salt Palace Convention Center this week talking about how to improve prevention efforts. 

Utah had the 10th highest suicide rate in the nation in 2010 according to the Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health.

Division Assistant Director Doug Thomas says suicide is too often a permanent solution for a temporary problem. 

“And often people don’t feel like it’s a temporary problem," Thomas says. "They feel like it’s not going to end which is why they think they need that kind of a solution.”

Thomas says one of the reasons why Utah and the mountain west in general has a higher rate than the rest of the nation is the number of people living in rural areas with less access to health care.  He points to high altitude as another risk factor.

Thomas says Utah officials are developing universal mental health screening and safety planning tools similar to what New York State has used to drive down its suicide rates by 10 percent since 2009.

“Whether you’re with the police or with the hospital or with mental health or substance abuse or with the schools there will be a common language so we can assess faster, screen faster and get people in to get help," Thomas says.

Lisa Stoddard is suicide prevention coordinator with the Salt Lake City VA. She says roughly 20 percent of people who commit suicide are military veterans.

“The problem that we that I think is devastating is that a lot of our service members that do ask for help, if we could have helped them before it got this bad there is a lot that could have been done to save marriage, jobs and things," Stoddard says.

Preliminary data from the Utah Department of Health show there were 540 suicides in Utah last year compared to 350 in 2005. 

Whittney Evans grew up southern Ohio and has worked in public radio since 2005. She has a communications degree from Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky, where she learned the ropes of reporting, producing and hosting. Whittney moved to Utah in 2009 where she became a reporter, producer and morning host at KCPW. Her reporting ranges from the hyper-local issues affecting Salt Lake City residents, to state-wide issues of national interest. Outside of work, she enjoys playing the guitar and getting to know the breathtaking landscape of the Mountain West.
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