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Task force aims to end teen suicide in Utah

Published May 19, 2013 4:24 pm

Community meeting • Provo School District's open approach to topic is focus of Pleasant Grove discussion.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Provo school officials have not lost one youngster to suicide in the past seven years, a remarkable fact given suicide's prevalence in other parts of the Beehive State.

Greg Hudnall would like the entire state to share that Provo statistic, and he thinks he knows how to do it.

"It takes a village to raise a child and it takes a community to save one," said Hudnall, an associate superintendent at Prove School District. "Parents shouldn't avoid talking about suicide."

Monday , Hudnall will talk about suicide to the Pleasant Grove community, which since the new year, has lost a child at Pleasant Grove Junior High and a teenager at Pleasant Grove High School.

Hudnall said he will hammer against one lingering misconception, repeating this fact: Talking about suicide does not cause people to commit suicide.

That doesn't mean the media should sensationalize suicide, according to Hudnall and other experts, but not talking about the topic makes it taboo, and that doesn't help those thinking about killing themselves.

Utah teens commit suicide more often than their peers nationwide. Two youths are treated for suicide attempts every day in Utah, according to a 2011 report by the Utah Department of Health. And 19 Utah teens died by suicide in 2011, according to the Utah Medical Examiner's Office.

Hudnall and others decided to do something about such grim statistics, especially because the Provo district — with about 13,000 students — averaged one youth suicide each year until 2005.

Today, Hudnall is executive director of the Utah County HOPE Task Force, a group made up of mental-health professionals, parents and concerned citizens.

The task force has many branches, including HOPE teen branches in schools so those thinking about suicide can talk with members and get referrals for professional help if necessary. Teachers and school-resource officers also can identify teens at high risk of suicide so professionals can evaluate them.

Many of the program's components are outlined on its website, http://www.Hope4utah.com.

Given the state's high suicide rate, particularly among the young, Utah lawmakers have begun to address the issue. The Legislature recently passed three new laws related to suicide prevention in schools. Schools now must notify parents of bullying and/or suicide threats; schools will offer annual seminars on bullying, substance abuse and mental health; and junior high and high schools will begin suicide-prevention programs. In addition, two suicide-prevention coordinators will be hired at the state education and state health levels.

Taryn Aiken has two children attending the Pleasant Grove schools with the recent suicides. She also is chairwoman of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's Utah chapter.

"Our goal is that everybody would adopt [the HOPE Task Force] methods," she said, adding she'd like the entire state to share Provo schools' no suicides statistic.

rparker@sltrib.com

Twitter: @RayUtah —

Pleasant Grove discusses suicide

Greg Hudnall, Provo School District associate superintendent, and former Pleasant Grove High School Coach Darold Henry will speak at a public event on suicide called "A Night of Hope" Monday at 6:30 p.m. at Pleasant Grove Junior High School, 810 N. 100 East. For more information, call 801-374-4802 or visit http://www.Hope4utah.com. —

Signs of depression

Parents who worry their child may be depressed or considering suicide should look for these symptoms:

• Feeling or acting sad or irritable

• Changes in sleeping or eating patterns

• Trouble in school or a sudden drop in grades.

• Lack of interest in activities that used to be enjoyable

• Withdrawing from friends or family

• Spending more time alone

• Change in personality; someone who was once outgoing is suddenly quiet and shy

Where to go for help

Suicide-prevention hotline • Call 801-587-3000 or 800-273-TALK (8255);

Salt Lake Behavioral Health • The agency, 801-264-6000, offers mental health evaluations.

Reading • One resource is The 10 Great Gifts I Give My Children by Steven Vannoy.

Source • Taryn Aiken, chairwoman of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Utah chapter