SYRACUSE -- During a recent five-day span, Syracuse police officers dealt with four unattended deaths.
Of those, one was an obvious suicide, while another incident was a murder-suicide, said Police Lt. Tracy Jensen.
Police are waiting for the state medical examiner's office to determine whether the other two were accidental or intentional -- in other words, suicide.
But those four in less than a week have brought this small city's total of unattended deaths to 15 since Jan. 1, with six of them confirmed suicides.
Syracuse usually has eight to 10 unattended deaths a year, with maybe half of those classified as suicides, Jensen said.
"We're not done. That's the problem," he said.
Unattended deaths include deaths by gunfire, hanging, unknown medical conditions and overdose of either prescription or illegal drugs. Every unattended death is treated as suspicious until officers can rule out foul play, Jensen said.
The deaths have crossed all age groups and socioeconomic boundaries in Syracuse, he said.
When officers arrive at the death of someone who has suffered a drug overdose, they have no way of knowing if it was intentional or accidental unless a suicide note is found, Jensen said.
Even an unattended death in which a person was shot or hanged is not always ruled as a suicide if a note is not found, officials said.
Syracuse is not alone in dealing with this increase of people taking their own lives, whether it is accidental or intentional.
In Box Elder County, Sheriff Lynn Yeates believes the number of unattended deaths is higher this year than in previous years. Many of those are suicides.
"It just feels like it, countywide," he said. "But no one wants to admit their loved one died from taking their own life, so some are not listed as suicides."
State officials say there may be more suicides reported this year than in previous years.
"With the preliminary numbers for 2011, we think this may be the first time we will see a significant increase in suicide deaths in over a decade," said Jenny Johnson, media and education coordinator with the Department of Health Violence and Injury Prevention Program.
Utah has had a higher suicide rate than the national rate for more than 10 years, she said.
The most recent numbers that have been released are for 2010. State officials are still working on the statistics for 2011, Johnson said. They hope to release those numbers soon.
She said there are many suicide prevention programs statewide.
Many local law enforcement agencies, including Syracuse, have installed prescription drop boxes in their offices so residents can safely dispose of old prescriptions.
"We're hoping to at least slow down the unattended deaths by drug overdose," Jensen said.
He said he and other officers across the state are going on more calls concerning someone who is suicidal, because for every completed suicide, there are many more attempts. And those numbers are going up as well.
Yeates said his officers have received crisis intervention training that helps them when they are interacting with someone who may be suicidal.
"We are able to refer them to the appropriate agency for psychological help."
Those who provide help to people considering suicide said they are getting more requests for services.
Dr. Todd Soutor, director of intensive services with Davis Behavioral Health Inc., said his agency has received many more requests this year than in past years.
"These are more difficult times," he said.
"We're not sure why there is an increase, but we want to stress with people who have suicidal thinking, there is an ending point. It does not last forever, and we will help them through the suicidal thinking."
Soutor said part of the problem is that a stigma is still attached to mental illness.
"Mental illness is a biological illness, like high blood pressure, and we can help," he said.
"We have a 24-hour crisis line, and we welcome calls from everywhere. They are not based on location, financial reasons or insurance reasons. We take all calls and work to provide intermediate intervention so they are not a danger to themselves."
Kristy Jones, community projects coordinator for Intermountain Healthcare's urban north region, has done several presentations for parents, teachers and students to raise awareness about suicide.
"I feel like the societal norm is that it is not OK to talk about suicide, and we need to change that, so if someone is struggling, they can talk and say, 'I need help,' " she said.
Jones said McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden has six trained instructors who work with schools in Davis and Weber counties to provide students education in the classroom.
The most important thing, she said, is if someone is talking about suicide, "remember you don't have to be a counselor. You can listen and say, 'Let me help you get treatment.'
"Every death from suicide is a tragedy."
14th annual International Survivors of Suicide Day 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday Alpine Church 254 W. 2675 North, Layton Pleasant Valley Library 5568 S. Adams Ave., Washington Terrace Need Help? National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255 Statewide Crisis Line: 801-587-3000 Davis Behavioral Health Inc. Crisis Line: 801-773-7060 Weber Human Services Crisis Line: 801-625-3700, extension 1