Rep. McAdams sponsors bill to prioritize suicide research

Utah communities are dealing with a frightening public health crisis, Congressman Ben McAdams said Friday, with the state having the sixth-highest suicide rate in the nation.

“Young people are especially at risk,” the freshman Utah Democrat said, “a cruel circumstance since they are the hope and promise for the future of our communities.”

McAdams, joined by Ohio Republican Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, is sponsoring legislation that would prioritize funding for suicide prevention research. The bill, H.R. 4704, directs the National Science Foundation to fund grants to colleges, universities and nonprofit organizations in order to bolster studies into factors that contribute to, and correlate with, suicide attempts.

“We can and do more to understand what puts a young person at risk of tragically ending their life,” McAdams said.

McAdams’ comments came during a media event at Salt Lake City’s Volunteers for America Resource Center. He was joined by Doug Grey, vice chair for Training and Education in the University of Utah School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry, and state Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, who has sponsored several pieces of legislation aimed at suicide prevention.

Eliason said that “deaths of despair” have contributed to three consecutive years of decline in the average American lifespan, the first time that metric has seen a three-year drop in the roughly 100 years since the combined effect of World War I and the Spanish Flu outbreak.

But he added that the state of Utah, in 2018, saw the first decline in its suicide rate in a decade, which he suggested is an encouraging sign for the state’s actions on suicide prevention, like the creation of the SafeUT app, suicide prevention training in schools and a broader messaging effort on mental and emotional health.

“It was very small, but what that tells us is that we can do something about this and some of our efforts are starting to work,” he said. “But now is not the time to let up on those efforts.”

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.