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McAdams Highlights Boost In Suicide Prevention Funding During Utah Visit

Photo of Ben McAdams.
Erik Neumann / KUER
During a visit to Utah, congressman Ben McAdams (D-Utah) spoke with Julia Ludlow who attepted to die by suicide but stopped after a friend intervened. Ludlow spoke in support of McAdams' suicide prevention legislation.

Congressman Ben McAdams, D-Utah, was in Salt Lake City this week to promote a $4 million boost in federal funding for youth suicide prevention and research that he helped pass in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

The funding bill has yet to be considered by the U.S. Senate, but it would provide resources to research what McAdams called a “public health crisis.” Funds would help study causes of death by suicide and make prevention grants available across the country. 

“We don’t know a lot about [suicide]. We need to better understand what causes suicide, what the risk factors are, and then what we can do to prevent it,” McAdams said during a press conference at the University Neuropsychiatric Institute in Salt Lake City on Monday. 

If approved by the full Congress, the funds would specifically go to research at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to study psychological risk factors for suicide and state suicide prevention grants administered through the federal agency known as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Why people choose death by suicide is not well understood, but there’s increasing acceptance that suicides result from multiple, complex causes, McAdams said.

“Underlying issues that may result in suicide isn’t just a bad decision. It’s biology and circumstances and depression. And it’s treatable and it’s preventable,” he said. 

Utah ranks sixth in the nation for death by suicide, according to the CDC. A 2017 study of suicides by Utah youth aged 10-17 found a 141% increase in deaths between 2011 and 2015. 

Research at the University of Utah ranges from looking for genetic factors that contribute to suicide to hypothesis suggesting that higher altitude explains why the Rocky Mountain states have elevarted rates. 

Funding for suicide research is hard to find, according to Douglas Gray, a suicidologist and professor of psychiatry at the University of Utah, who spoke in support of McAdams’ efforts. 

“Congressman McAdams is now in the arena of suicide prevention and making a difference,” Gray said. 

Former Utah Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) worked on a variety of suicide prevention issues before retiring in late 2018, including the creation of a three digit suicide prevention hotline. Gray said he hopes McAdams will step into a similar role. 

“We need his help,” he said. 

Erik Neumann is a radio producer and writer. A native of the Pacific Northwest, his work has appeared on public radio stations and in magazines along the West Coast. He received his Bachelor's Degree in geography from the University of Washington and a Master's in Journalism from UC Berkeley. Besides working at KUER, he enjoys being outside in just about every way possible.
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