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Lawmakers Weigh Statewide Suicide Hotline

KatarzynaBialasiewicz via

State lawmakers are considering a statewide hotline for people to call if they’re thinking of committing suicide.  Supporters say Utah, which has some of the highest suicide rates in the country is desperate for a number that’s easy to remember and connects callers directly to services without delay.

Salt Lake County Councilwoman Aimee Winder-Newton told members of an interim legislative committee Wednesday that she supports a 24-hour suicide-prevention hotline for personal reasons.

“My son came to me and he said, ‘mom, I’m done. I’m tired of waiting to get into doctors and I think I’m done’ and he expressed his thoughts of suicide,” Winder-Newton said.

Winder-Newton said she wanted to help her son, but didn’t know how.

“I know if I as a county council member don’t even know which number to call the majority of the population does not know how to get those resources,” she said.

The legislature tried to create such a hotline before. But Republican Senator Daniel Thatcher said they were told they may have to share a quick-dial number like 3-1-1.  He stressed Wednesday that it has to be a dedicated line.

“They will not survive pressing 1 for English and pressing 3 for suicide intervention,” he said.

Salt Lake County has one of the most comprehensive crisis response systems in the country according to Barry Rose. He’s the crisis services manager at the University of Utah’s Neuropsychiatric Institute. He said the crisis hotline there gets roughly 5,000 calls a month.  

“For a lot of people it’s just the ability to be able to talk to someone honestly about what they are feeling, knowing that they won’t be judged and that they will be taken seriously.”

A year ago, the state launched an app called SafeUT, in which people can text crisis counselors. Rose says that’s been helpful for young people who feel more comfortable texting than speaking over the phone. 

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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