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Utah has one of the highest suicide rates in nation

Published February 19, 2012 10:35 pm

Education • Coalition seeks to teach people how to get help.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The number of suicides in Utah continues to climb, making it — once again — home to one of the highest suicide rates in the country. According to preliminary data from the Office of Vital Records and Statistics, 495 Utahns took their own lives in 2011, compared with 455 in 2010.

"It's a problem we've had for a long time, and it's not going anywhere," said Jenny Johnson, education coordinator at the Utah Department of Health.

Because Utah's population rose during the same time period, state officials do not consider the increase statistically significant. But they acknowledge suicide remains a major problem.

A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study of 2008 and 2009 data found that Utah had the highest percentage of adults with suicidal thoughts — 6.8 percent — compared with 2.1 percent in Georgia, the nation's lowest.

The Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition had been meeting less frequently, but organizers were re-energized late last year. Now they hope to find ways to increase awareness that suicide is a preventable public health problem, and highlight the services available.

"If they're having those kinds of thoughts, talk to someone," said Doug Thomas, assistant director at the Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health. He urged people to reach out to family, friends, clergy or the national hotline 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

In Utah and nationwide, suicide has become a major concern for the military, particularly among returned veterans. At least once or twice a month, Gerald White, a chaplain at the Utah National Guard, counsels people who have thought about taking their life. Relationships are typically a large factor.

"As I have raised kids and been involved with a lot of kids over the years, we're noticing there's a deficit of kids who have never really learned how to fail," said White, who is also on the state suicide coalition.

"We are attempting to help soldiers understand that through resilience techniques and goals ... how to bounce back," he said.

An analysis of 2010 deaths in Utah showed nearly 40 percent of those who committed suicide had a conflict with an intimate partner. Slightly more than half had been diagnosed with a mental illness. Only 15 percent were reported to have a financial problem.

"One of the big questions was: Were our economic factors becoming more common as an issue driving people to this extreme?" said Todd Grey, Utah chief medical examiner. "I have not seen a marked increase where we're getting investigation information that financial ruin has been the tipping point."

His office has seen a similar mixture of factors in 2011 suicides, including impulsive decisions by teens disappointed by relationships, Grey said. Adults often are reacting to a combination of real or perceived failures, he said.

Research suggests that the high rate of suicide in the Intermountain West may be tied to elevation, rural communities with fewer health resources, access to firearms and a heavily western European population, which has been shown to have more suicidal thoughts.

jlyon@sltrib.com

Do you need to talk to someone about suicide?

People in need of help and their friends and families can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). —

Suicide in Utah

Utah had the eighth-highest adult suicide rate for ages 20 to 64, according to a 2007 national count from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most recent available.

Twenty-six percent of Utah high school students reported feeling sad or hopeless, according to 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System surveys; 15.4 percent said they had "seriously considered" suicide.