Utah leaders announce $2 million suicide prevention campaign

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) In this Dec. 7, 2018, file photo Losa Smith, Jodian Grant, Joanna Hildreth-Castrejon sing with the BYU Women of Color Club, during a candlelight vigil on the Provo school's campus for a student who died by suicide that week.

Editor’s note • This story discusses suicide. 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.

In the past five years, Utah has lost roughly 3,200 residents to suicide, Rep. Steve Eliason said Monday, a number equivalent to the combined populations of Daggett and Piute counties.

And in just the past year, the Sandy Republican said, the loss of life to suicide in the state exceeded the population of Huntsville.

“However,” Eliason said, “there is hope on the horizon.”

Utah’s suicide rates have leveled off, which Eliason described as an important and natural progression ahead of, potentially, decreasing the frequency of suicide, which is the leading cause of death for the state’s youths.

And to aid in that effort, the state will soon launch a three-year, $2 million campaign aimed at combating stigmas surrounding mental and behavioral health and encouraging Utahns to seek out and secure the help they need.

“I predict that we will rise to the occasion,” Eliason said.

The Utah lawmaker was joined by Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and representatives of the state’s largest medical providers and its predominant faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, during a Monday announcement for the campaign, which will rely on public and private funding and will function similar to the state’s “Parents Empowered” campaign against underage drinking.

The Legislature appropriated $1 million as a match for private donations, which will be combined with $24,000 from individual Utah taxpayers — who elected to make a contribution on their most recent tax returns — and donations from doTERRA co-founders Greg and Julie Cook, Intermountain Healthcare, University of Utah Health, Rocky Mountain Power, the LDS Church and the Utah Shooting Sports Council.

“Our hearts ache at the loss of every life, and for the families and individuals that are impacted by these deaths,” Julie Cook said. “We have consoled our own children as they have lost friends, classmates and teachers to suicide.”

Craig Christensen, a Latter-day Saint general authority, said there are many places people can turn to for help. But, he said, everyone can and must do a better job of watching out for warning signs among their neighbors and friends and helping to save lives by connecting individuals with health professionals.

“We need to encourage them they’re not alone,” Christensen said, “and they’re never alone.”

The state is in the process of selecting a vendor to produce and implement the suicide prevention campaign. Cox said there will be more details provided about the focus of the campaign when it formally launches “in the months to come.”

He suggested the campaign will include elements in print, television, radio, social media and other platforms.

“We’re better off when we’re having these conversations,” Cox said, “especially with our young people.”

Cox also said the state is committed to closing gaps in mental and behavioral health resources in the state, and he credited Eliason and other lawmakers for their ongoing work in public health.

“Every single death by suicide is preventable,” Cox said. "All of these deaths of despair are preventable, but it’s going to take all of us working together.”