Utah launches dual-language suicide prevention campaign to help state’s growing Latino population

‘Live On’ messaging aims to reduce stigma around mental health by getting all Utahns to start talking about it.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Javier Alegra with Latino Behavioral Health Services gives details of the new media campaign dedicated to mental health awareness and suicide prevention resources affecting Utah's Latino community as part of the Live On campaign, Mar. 16, 2021.

Editor’s note: If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or the UNI CrisisLine at 801-587-3000.

West Valley City • Although Utah Latinos experience a suicide rate that is higher than other races and ethnicities, said leader Javier Alegra, only now have state officials included members of the community in the planning of a new prevention campaign.

“The majority of the time, efforts are made for us without us,” said Alegra, executive director of Latino Behavioral Services, at a news conference to announce the “Live On” informational campaign.

The effort invited ideas from Utah Latinos from the beginning, which makes it different than previous campaigns that were shaped before the community could weigh in, Alegra said.

Live On aims to make Utahns aware of existing prevention resources and warning signs, and to encourage those in need to seek help. It will include a series of Spanish-language billboards and other messaging, including a mural in West Valley City, to reach Latinos and to try to lessen the stigma around mental health issues.

The Live On website includes personal stories, fact sheets, phone numbers to find help and other information, such as targeted resources for faith and LGBTQ+ communities. It doesn’t have a section devoted to Hispanic and Latino communities — Utah’s largest minority population — although the full website can toggle between English and Spanish.

Additional resource pages will be added over time, said Heather Barnum, a spokesperson for the Department of Human Services.

Utah has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation. Lawmakers passed a slate of bills this session that took some steps to increase Utahns’ access to care, such as setting aside money for family stabilization services to support children with mental health disorders.

The Live On campaign, focused on raising awareness of existing resources, was envisioned and funded under a 2019 bill, Barnum said.

Leaders on Tuesday unveiled the new Live On mural, located at 3091 S. 2700 West in West Valley City, as well as several billboards that show people smiling with friends and family with the phrase: “Esto es prevención contra el suicidio.” That translates to, “This is suicide prevention.”

Cox said he sees the Live On campaign and its focus on Spanish-language messaging as the next step in other, more recent efforts like work by the Governor’s Suicide Prevention Task Force, to decrease the state’s suicide rates.

The Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition, which founded the campaign, wants to reduce rates by 10% by the end of this year.

“I don’t know why it’s (Latino-specific suicide outreach) never been done before,” Cox said, “Again, I think it’s important to note that suicide prevention in general has always been kind of a one-off in the corner.””

Cox and West Valley City Mayor Ron Bigelow gave lengthy comments in Spanish — which Alegra appreciated.

“I’m a little touched here,” Alegra said, with emotion, when he took the podium to speak, “because it’s not often that I participate in a press conference where my language is spoken. So, thank you.”

Cox spoke first in Spanish, saying in part: “La iniciativa ‘Live On’ es un esfuerzo estatal para prevenir el suicido meniante la propoción de la educación, [sino] propoción de recursos y el cambio de nuestra cultura, en turno, a suicidio y la salud mental,” Cox said. “Si me estás escuchando o viendo cualquiera de estos mensajes, tú puedes desempeñar un papel en la prevención del suicidio.”

Translated into English: “The initiative ‘Live On’ is a statewide effort to prevent suicide by means of not just education, but through resources and change in our culture in regards to suicide and mental health. If you’re listening to me or watching any of these messages, you can also take a role in suicide prevention.”

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Left to right, Gov. Spencer Cox, Javier Alegra with Latino Behavioral Health Services and West Valley City Mayor Ron Bigalow share a laugh on Tuesday. The trio unveiled a new mural and media campaign dedicated towards mental health awareness and suicide prevention resources available to Utah's Latino community as part of the Live On campaign, Mar. 16, 2021.

Cox said the messaging campaign will make a difference because it will make talking about suicide and mental health easier. “That leads to discussions and is proven to save lives,” he said.

While a Utah Department of Health report recently indicated there was no initial evidence that social distancing and stay-at-home orders had led to an increase in distress among Utahns in 2020, advocates say social isolation and economic uncertainty have had an impact on the state’s residents.

— Tribune reporter Norma Gonzalez contributed to this story.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah muralist and mosaicist Roger Whiting and Herriman High School student Mati Simonds discuss a new mural dedicated to mental health awareness, located at 3091 S. 2700 West in West Valley City. Whiting and Simonds worked with over 30 students from Granger High School, Cypress High School and Hopeful Beginnings for over a month, breaking more than 10,000 porcelain tiles and assembling the mosaic, aimed at promoting education, providing resources, and changing the culture around suicide in Utah's Latino community.