OGDEN -- No one needs to tell Nicholas Poorte that suicide threats are a growing problem that is rarely talked about. But that was not always the case.
When the Ogden Police detective finished his police training, he had no idea how often people threaten to kill themselves. After he started working his beat, he discovered what other officers have figured out once they are on the job: police are dispatched to a suicide threat almost every night. He was taken by surprise.
"It was not addressed near as often as it happens," Poorte said. "It's something that does occur quite a bit more than you expect."
Suicide is currently the second leading cause of death for Utahns ages 15-34, according to a 2010 report from the Utah Department of Health.
So Poorte underwent Crisis Intervention Training, a voluntary option for an officer who wants to better handle a suicidal situation. The 40-hour program educates officers about mental illness, mood- or mind-affecting drugs and strategies to effectively prevent people from killing themselves.
State Sen. Pat Jones, D-Salt Lake City, has successfully pushed a resolution that would encourage all Utah police agencies to seek CIT training provided by the Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health. After unanimously passing the Senate, the resolution received the full support of the House on Thursday.
"It's something that we have a desperate need for in our state," said Sherri Wittwer, executive director of NAMI Utah, an organization aimed at helping the mentally ill.
The resolution comes amid increasingly tough times for police and the suicidal. Tough economic times lead to suicide threat calls going up, Poorte said.
"The severity of the calls continues to increase," said John Rogerson, director of adult services for Weber Human Services, who has taken and supervised crisis hot-line calls for 20 years.
But at the same time, human services, like everyone else, suffered during the recession.
The Legislature cut human services funding by more than $40 million during the past three budget cycles, with a greater loss of federal matching funding, according to the department. Lawmakers are currently weighing an additional 5 percent budget cut to state health and human services.
"A few years ago, we ended up discharging most all of our non-Medicaid and not civilly committed population. We had to discharge hundreds of people," Rogerson said.
Even when the police can prevent a suicide, there may be fewer resources available for those who need them, Rogerson said.
"What we end up seeing is rather than people being able to get treatment, they put it off and end up calling once they are in a crisis situation," Rogerson said.
But sometimes a suicidal person calls for help with a very different intention -- getting the responding officers to kill them. The police refer to it as suicide by cop. In such a scenario, the suicidal person is very difficult to dissuade, Poorte said.
Shooting a suicidal person is the last thing any officer wants to do, said Gary Horenkamp, a suicide counselor who has worked with officers who have been in that situation. But if it comes to that point, the police have families too, he said. "At the end of the day, everyone wants to come home from work."
No matter the situation, the goal for anyone -- an officer, relative or friend -- is to instill hope, said Jed Burton, executive director of Weber Human Services.
But people need to ultimately contact professionals to get their loved one help, he said. One option not many people know about is that they can get a court order for their loved ones to receive mental health treatment, especially if their loved ones are a danger to themselves or others and they've tried everything else, he said.
"It's good for the community to know that there are mental health laws to help people get treatment, even if they're not ready to accept it," he said.