House, Senate leaders applaud formation of teen suicide task force

Monday , January 29, 2018 - 4:00 AM

GREG HUGHES AND WAYNE NIEDERHAUSER, special to the Standard-Examiner

The Standard-Examiner Editorial Board recently accused us of not getting behind Governor Herbert and his task force to address the rising rate of teen suicide in Utah. It is perplexing to us that an editorial board could be so uninformed.

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The growing problem of teen suicide is a national problem and its impact has been felt in our state as well. Because we didn’t mention it in our opening remarks doesn’t mean it isn’t a priority for either one of us. This is not a new issue and has been a priority for us for quite some time.

The Utah Legislature has worked for years to address suicide, and our efforts have had a positive impact. We have passed bills requiring behavioral health professionals and licensed school staff to participate in suicide prevention training and to implement suicide prevention strategies in schools, we created and funded three state positions for suicide prevention and have worked to study issues surrounding suicide and the implementation of a statewide mental health crisis hotline.

Utah is the nationwide leader in the most dynamic crisis app for public school children and in the last 18 months alone, our crisis services have reached almost 66,000 individuals throughout the state. After finding that Hope squads had been wildly successful in the Provo School District, the Legislature worked to fund them statewide, thus building on best practices and programs that have produced great results.

We believe that every life lost is a tragedy, and lawmakers have consistently supported efforts to address this problem. Since 2012, we have passed at least 15 bills addressing suicide prevention but we haven’t noticed a single word of acknowledgment from the Standard-Examiner or its editorial board for all of our work over the years.

In fact, on his recent visit to the Capitol, U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart said the reason he’s been working on federal legislation to improve the national suicide prevention hotline is because of the work of the Utah Legislature. Too bad the paper chose not to notice information that doesn’t fit its chosen narrative but frankly, it would be nice if they would at least take a cursory glance at the efforts of the Legislature before claiming those efforts don’t even exist.

Rep. Steve Eliason, appointed to lead the task force along with Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, has been the driving force in the Utah House on suicide prevention legislation. Along with Sen. Stuart Adams, who was also appointed to the task force, they will provide valuable insight into ongoing legislative efforts.

More legislation will be brought forward in 2018 to continue building on the hard work that’s already been done. Sen. Daniel Thatcher and Rep. Eliason have sponsored four bills, each of which have passed a legislative interim committee unanimously. These bills address critical needs such as the creation of a new type of responder specializing in mental health, extending the work of the Mental Health Crisis Line Commission for five more years and implementing a statewide mental health crisis line with operational standards that will ensure that crisis calls never go unanswered.

Of course, when tragedies occur it’s important that we all look at what could have been done better and ask how systems can be improved, but simply placing blame while offering nothing constructive to the dialogue is not a great way to move the needle and solve real problems. Here at the Legislature, that’s what we’re trying to do. We applaud the formation of this task force and look forward to any additional ideas or suggestions it produces that can help us further address this difficult issue.

Wayne Niederhauser is president of the Utah Senate. Greg Hughes is speaker of the Utah House.

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