Taryn Aiken Hiatt fought back tears with nearly every word as she recounted losing her father to suicide in 2002 and surviving several of her own attempts when she was a teenager.
But Hiatt’s words also conveyed hope through their sadness. Hope that the suicide rate in Utah will eventually drop. Hope that the stigma that surrounds seeking help for suicidal thoughts and other mental issues will one day disappear.
For Hiatt, some of that hope came from the state’s announcement Thursday of the new Live On campaign, which launched a website and a free, anonymous help line at 1-800-273-TALK.
“I wish my dad could be here today to see this, to see what’s taking place in our state,” Hiatt said.
The campaign, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said, aims to promote education, provide resources and change the social norms around suicide and mental health.
“The core of this campaign is to embody hope during someone’s darkest time in their life by addressing stigma, and equipping and empowering individuals, families, friends and others to address mental health and to support one another,” Cox said.
Kim Myers, assistant director of the Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, said that the campaign will include training resources for community members, stories of recovery, and specific strategies people struggling can use to create environments in their own lives conducive to more safety, support and, hopefully, recovery.
“The story of suicide is often a story of death when we talk about it publicly,” Myers said. “But the reality is the most common experience with suicide is that of recovery. People need to know that so they know, in their darkest moments, that they’re not alone.”
The campaign received $2 million in funding — $1 million from the state Legislature that was then matched by people from the private sector — that allows it to run for three years, Myers said. If the initiative shows success, proponents hope to find more funding.
Myers said success will be measured by how many people are more likely to seek help, more likely to inform others if someone they know is struggling, and more likely to be aware of what resources are available to them.
The Live On campaign comes at a time where the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the mental health of Utahns. Cox said the pandemic has “exacerbated the mental health issues we already face as a state and as a society.”
Mikelle Moore, chief community health officer at Intermountain Healthcare, said Utah has lost nearly 3,200 residents to suicide in the past five years, a number she called “alarming.” Suicide is the leading cause of death in the state among people ages 10-24, and Utah is among the top 10 in the United States in suicide rate.
Moore encouraged all organizations in the state to join the campaign and “help bring hope” to the mental health challenges the community faces.
“We do not accept any number other than zero as appropriate for the number of people we might lose to suicide,” Moore said. “We’re changing the social norms within the way we deliver care and the way we approach this issue in our communities.”
Editor’s note • If you or people you know are at risk of self-harm, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24-hour support at 1-800-273-8255. The Live On help line is 1-800-273-TALK