When U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart said suicide has touched almost everyone’s family or friends, he choked up and paused.
Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox brushed away tears. State Sen. Daniel Thatcher sobbed. A tear streaked down the cheek of state Rep. Steve Eliason. And Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes was blinking back tears, too.
While sad, they celebrated at the state Capitol on Tuesday President Donald Trump’s signing into law last week something they all sought for years: ordering work toward creating a national three-digit number for a national suicide hotline, similar to 911.
Thatcher and Eliason had pushed unsuccessfully to create such a three-digit line in Utah for years. They say Stewart and Sen. Orrin Hatch, both R-Utah, then picked up the idea and passed it in Congress, with only one dissenting vote.
“While it still hurts that we weren’t successful here in Utah,” said Thatcher, R-West Valley City, “instead of helping 3 million Utahns — which is what I was trying to do — we will change the lives of 300 million Americans.”
He added, “It has been a long and hard road. We have lost so many and so much. But we have saved some too,” and now may save many more.
Eliason, R-Sandy, said he realized just how valuable a three-digit number could be one night — ironically after a roundtable with students about suicide — when he saw a man standing on a highway bridge. So he called 911 to summon help.
“I forgot about it for 10 months,” he said, until he attended a public safety awards banquet, where three officers were honored for saving the suicidal person at that bridge. “It was the call I made. … So crisis numbers save lives.”
“Even educated, competent adults usually have no idea where to turn for mental health or suicide-prevention help,” Thatcher said. A national suicide prevention line exists, but it is not as easy to remember as 911: 1-800-273-TALK.
Stewart held the celebration, he said, to thank the many Utah officials and families of victims who helped push for the new law through the years.
Among them was Bruce Warburton, whose daughter Hannah was a Huntsville teenager who had been a student body officer with straight A’s. She attempted to call a local suicide-prevention line. After no one answered, she died by suicide.
Bruce Warburton and his wife helped Eliason pass this year “Hannah’s Law” in the Legislature to require crisis lines to operate around the clock, or transfer to others that do.
“I think my daughter’s smiling today,” Warburton said.
He offered some advice to people thinking about suicide: “Don’t give up. Don’t be embarrassed. We all are flawed, we all struggle. We all have our ups and downs. Don’t be shy, don’t be embarrassed” to seek help and talk.
Lt. Gov. Cox, who has spoken recently about how he was suicidal as a teenager, said, “We have to change the discourse around suicide,” and families need to discuss it.
Reyes said, “Let’s get rid of the judgment that too often is evident in our discussions, and the shame, and let’s find ways to build together.”
Stewart noted that Utah ranks No. 5 in the nation for suicide attempts per capita, but urged those who struggle to seek help and hold on.
“Life is good. In a moment of despair and mental illness, some may lose that. They don’t believe it anymore,” he said. “We just want to give them one more chance. … Hang on for one more day. Call us. Let us help you.”