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Proposed Law Named After Huntsville Teen To Ensure Utah's Suicide Hotlines Staffed

Austen Diamond

Utah’s suicide hotlines receive nearly 10,000 calls each year from people in crisis, but not all are staffed 24/7. That’s why lawmakers are pushing new legislation to keep those lines open and staffed. 

Hannah Warburton was just 16 years old in 2014 when she tried to call a suicide hotline and no one picked up. 

“The call was disconnected, and Hannah then exited this life,” said Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, telling the Huntsville teen’s story as he introduced new legislation on Friday.

Dubbed Hannah’s Bill, it would require hotlines to always have a mental health professional available to answer a call. 

“This bill is designed to ensure that never happens again in the state of Utah to one of our citizens during a moment of crisis," he said. 

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.

Utah has about 20 or so local hotlines in addition to a statewide crisis line accessed by dialing 1-800-273-TALK. The legislation would require all hotlines to have certain staffing and operational capabilities so that calls will either be answered or rolled over to the state’s line, which is staffed year-round. 

More than a half dozen members of the House spoke in support of the bill, sharing emotional testimony of friends or constituents lost to suicide.

Rep. Susan Duckworth, D-Magna, spoke through tears describing her own struggles.

“I’ve suffered for many years, and actually have contemplated this decision, this selfish decision, and a lot of times when we try to think about this, we’re not in our right mind,” she said. “And so, don’t judge, please.”

The bill passed the House unanimously. It will cost the state about $2.4 million dollars annually.

Gov. Gary Herbert and leaders of the Utah legislature have given renewed focus to the issue following an alarming study that showed suicide had become the leading cause of death among Utah’s young adults.

The state-led Mental Health Crisis Line Commission was formed last year to help propose changes to bolster the state’s mental health resources. The commission recommended Hannah’s Bill and three other pieces of legislation this session.

In addition to Hannah’s Bill, the House approved a Medicaid waiver that would fund mobile crisis outreach teams for Medicaid patients across the state. Currently, Salt Lake County is the only one with access to those resources.

Julia joined KUER in 2016 after a year reporting at the NPR member station in Reno, Nev. During her stint, she covered battleground politics, school overcrowding, and any story that would take her to the crystal blue shores of Lake Tahoe. Her work earned her two regional Edward R. Murrow awards. Originally from the mountains of Western North Carolina, Julia graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008 with a degree in journalism. She’s worked as both a print and radio reporter in several states and several countries — from the 2008 Beijing Olympics to Dakar, Senegal. Her curiosity about the American West led her to take a spontaneous, one-way road trip to the Great Basin, where she intends to continue preaching the gospel of community journalism, public radio and podcasting. In her spare time, you’ll find her hanging with her beagle Bodhi, taking pictures of her food and watching Patrick Swayze movies.
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