After celebrity deaths, Utah sees a big increase in calls to suicide prevention hotlines

This combination of 2004 and 2016 file photos shows fashion designer Kate Spade and chef Anthony Bourdain in New York. A U.S. report released in June 2018 found an uptick in suicide rates in nearly every state since 1999. Middle-aged adults _ ages 45 to 64 _ had the largest rate increase. Bourdain was 61 and Spade was 55. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, Andy Kropa/Invision)

Utah’s largest suicide prevention programs have seen a dramatic increase in calls to their hotline after the suicide deaths last week of celebrities Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade.

On Friday alone, there was a 30 percent to 40 percent jump in call volume to the CrisisLine run by the University of Utah’s Neuropsychiatric Institute (UNI), according to crisis services manager Barry Rose. Calls to the hotline — which can be reached at 801-587-3000 — were still about 10 percent higher than normal Monday, he said.

“There is help out there for people,” Rose said. “So many people don’t know that and they are trying to handle these things alone, but there are options.”

After news spread last week about the deaths of celebrity chef Bourdain and fashion designer Spade, many social media posts shared the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK). Director John Draper told The Wall Street Journal that calls to that phone number jumped 25 percent in the two days after Spade’s death compared with the same period the previous week.

Draper told The Journal that people often feel connected to a celebrity, and when he or she dies, there can be a “collective sense of loss.”

Salt Lake City Councilman Charlie Luke was among those who shared the national hotline number on social media Friday. In a Facebook post, he wrote that he has struggled with anxiety and depression throughout much of his adult life. While he doesn’t consider himself to be suicidal, he wrote that he felt many like him “quietly and secretly experience anxiety and depression.” He urged anyone who was thinking of self-harm to reach out to someone immediately.

“Those of us with careers and public service positions that are higher profile often feel we have to always put on a smile and muscle through any self-doubt, and that not doing so would be a sign of weakness,” he wrote. “I share now because the timing is critical. If you are suffering from anxiety or depression, please know you’re not alone.”

Calls to the national hotline are routed to a network of crisis centers that provide free support to those who may be contemplating suicide or who are in emotional distress.

In Utah, those calls are routed to UNI. Rose said the organization takes about 1,200 calls a month from the national hotline, called LifeLine. And, in total, UNI usually sees about 6,000 calls a month between Lifeline, its local hotline and a “warm line,” which helps those who are in need of support, encouragement or engagement but are not in crisis. UNI also has a cellphone app, SafeUT, which is targeted toward Utah youths.

“All of these people are getting help,” Rose said. “It’s really great.”

Suicide rates rose in Utah and every other state but Nevada between 1999 and 2016, according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Utah had the fifth-highest suicide rate at 25.2 per 100,000 people, and, since 1999, the state saw a 46.5 percent increase in residents taking their own lives. It is a crisis that has led Gov. Gary Herbert to create a youth suicide task force and state lawmakers to fund a new staffer to study why Utahns have died by suicide.

The youth suicide rate in Utah has trended upward in recent years, growing at an average annual rate almost four times faster than the rest of the nation. It is now the leading cause of death for Utah youths ages 10 to 17.

Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts is asked to call the 24-Hour National Suicide Prevention Hotline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Utah also has crisis lines statewide, and the SafeUT app offers immediate crisis intervention services for youths and a confidential tip program.