Utah moves forward with suicide prevention

Tuesday , May 12, 2015 - 6:21 AM

Standard-Examiner correspondent

SALT LAKE CITY – Gov. Gary Herbert signed five bills into law Monday, each one expected to help the suicide prevention effort in Utah.

“Last year over 500 Utahns took their own lives,” said Herbert. “Suicide is the leading cause of death for our youth, ages 10 to 17.”

Those present, many of which had experienced suicide in their own family, strongly supported the signing.

Taryn Aiken, chair of the Utah Chapter for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) believes the bills aim to increase understanding that a crisis exists in Utah . “(The legislation) will help increase awareness, especially in education and mental health professionals,” Aiken said.

Julie Allen, an AFSP volunteer, said, “All of (the bills) show such great progress.” She feels Utah is heading in the right direction for preventing suicide.

Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, sponsored HB128 for better record keeping in Utah schools for suicide and bullying incidents.

“(This bill) helps parents know the schools are doing something to support their children in this issue,” said Froerer. Schools must notify parents when their child is involved in a bullying incident.

Froerer praised Huntsville resident, Laura Warburton for bringing the need to his attention. He said Warburton’s personal efforts were instrumental in the legislation passing.

Warburton said, “Everything I can do, I do. It is very possible for citizens to make a difference.” She also believes a more open discussion about suicide will help Utah progress even further. “We need to be open to new ideas. What we’ve done has helped, but we need to do more,” Warburton said.

Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-Tooele, sponsored SB175 to create Utah’s first statewide communication program for suicide prevention. The bill allows Utah University’s Neuropsychiatric Institute to create a school safety and crisis line.

Thatcher, who also has experienced the loss of a loved one by suicide, believes the key is early detection and intervention. “The next time you ask someone, ‘How are you?’ don’t use it as a greeting. One of the things we can do to immediately make an impact is to start asking people how they’re doing and mean it,” Thatcher said.

Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, sponsored HB364 to better train education and mental health employees in suicide awareness. He believes early detection of the warning signs of suicide will best reduce suicide rates in Utah.

“Just as we’ve driven down chronic homelessness we now will drive down suicide in Utah,” Eliason said.

Herbert explained the severity of the issue, especially for youth in Utah.

About 14 percent of the youth in Utah have suicidal thoughts, Herbert said. He also discussed a few things Utahns should know about suicide prevention.

“First, we should not be afraid to talk about the issue,” Herbert said. The governor assured there is hope for a happier future and urged openness on the issue. He suggested there is no shame in needing medicine to maintain stability. “We ought not to judge, we ought to seek help for those in these circumstances,” Herbert said.

The bills signed into law include: HB209 Suicide Prevention Program Amendments, HB128 Maintenance of School Records, HJR12 Joint Resolution on Homeless and Runaway Youth, HB364 Suicide Prevention Amendments, and SB175 School Safety and Crisis Line. The bills without fiscal notes will take affect May 12, 2015.

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