We won't reduce teen suicide by making health classes an option

Wednesday , August 09, 2017 - 4:30 AM


The State Board of Education just voted to make health courses optional in Utah middle schools.

Utah, where suicide is the leading cause of death for children ages 10 to 17.


Utah, where 36 children already killed themselves this year.

Utah, where children turn by the hundreds to a smartphone app to get help with mental health issues.

The board made a mistake. 

  • RELATED: “PE, health, arts no longer middle school core requirements”

Board members voted 9-6 Friday to scrap four core requirements for state middle schools — health, college and career readiness, physical education and the arts. They did it to enhance local control, the Deseret News reported.

"We talk about it. We run on it. We say we believe in it. But when it comes down to it, we're often scared to move on because somebody might fail. We have to stop thinking that way because nobody can succeed if we’re constantly worried about not letting people stumble along the way," said Alisa Ellis, a board member from Heber City.

Stumble. As in lose another child to suicide.

Later, after Friday’s vote, Rep. Steve Eliason appeared before the board to discuss the SafeUT app, which anonymously connects students with crisis counselors at the the University of Utah. Usage of the app continues to grow, said Eliason, a Sandy Republican.

But despite the app’s popularity, 36 young Utahns took their lives in the first seven months of this year, according to unpublished Utah Health Department data cited by Eliason.

That represents a 12 percent increase over the same period in 2015, which set a record for teen suicides in Utah, Eliason pointed out.

"Unfortunately this number will do nothing but go up because it is preliminary," he said in a story published on ksl.com.

The SafeUT app supplemented classroom instruction on mental health for Utah seventh- and eighth-graders, and even then, the death toll was frightening. Now the app is all they’ve got.

"Our board just voted to make health an elective in seventh and eighth grade,” said Brittney Cummins, a board member from West Valley City. “So I am grateful for this app as an opportunity for those students to have access to concerns they might have with mental health, with self harm and things that they're struggling with because they're going to need it. I don't see health as being one of those places that students say, 'Yeah, sign me up for that class.’”

Youth suicide is a statewide issue. It needs to be aggressively and uniformly addressed throughout Utah.

The Utah State Board of Education just decided saving young lives takes a back seat to political grandstanding. And that’s a mistake.

Sign up for e-mail news updates.