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Health department focused on reducing suicide rates

Uintah Basin Standard - 10/2/2017

Utah ranks fifth in the nation for number of deaths by suicide. TriCounty Health District is rated second in suicide of the 13 health districts in Utah. TriCounty Health wants to prevent people in Daggett, Uintah and Duchesne counties from passing away from suicide each year.

Last week, the health department held three training sessions in each county, focused on giving community members the tools to fight back against suicide, aiming to teach people how to talk about suicide--often the most difficult step for friends and family.

"In order to prevent suicide, we have to be able to talk about it," said Jordan Mathis, TriCounty Health director. "We want to have an honest conversation as a community about what we can do to help reduce suicide rates in our area."

Each training session started with a text poll. Those in attendance were asked to text in the word "foster" if their life had been impacted by suicide, and "hope" if it had not. There were approximately 30 people in attendance at the Roosevelt session, and of those, 86 percent had been impacted by suicide.

"That's why this conversation is so important," Mathis said. "As we can see, suicide is something that has impacted most of us."

According to data from the Utah Department of Health, suicide is one of the top three health concerns in the state. Last year, suicide was the leading cause of death for Utahns ages 10 to 17.

Data shows that males pass away from suicide more often than females, but the attempted suicide rate for females is much higher than their male counterparts. Men typically choose more lethal means and are more likely to complete suicide.

Method of suicide is also a big part of the picture. Youth 10-17, are most likely to complete suicide via guns or hanging. Data shows that 45.4 percent of youth suicides were via firearms, 45.4 percent were via suffocation, 4.6 percent were via poisoning or overdose and 4.6 percent were via other means. Adults are equally as like to complete suicide via firearm. However, they are more likely to choose poisoning than suffocation.

TriCounty Health says these statistics are significant, and play a big role in how we can reduce suicide rates in the Uintah Basin.

"We have to have an honest conversation as a community about securing firearms," Mathis said. "We're not talking about gun control. We're talking about securing firearms."

Firearms are a concern, not only because suicide via firearm is so prevalent, but because it is so likely to be lethal.

"Suicides with a gun succeed 85 percent of the time," Mathis said. "Overdoses succeed less than 2 percent of the time. Attempts are more successful with more lethal means, like firearms."

Mathis made clear that he wasn't talking about getting rid of guns--simply ensuring responsible use. He advised residents to keep their guns stored securely, locked away in safes when possible and never keep them loaded.

"Gun owners are historically a group that is very concerned with safety," Mathis said. "We are not here advocating gun control. We're advocating responsible gun ownership."

His remarks were met with push-back from several of those in attendance. Community members were quick to insist that those who didn't have access to a gun would simply find other means, and that limiting access to firearms wouldn't actually impact suicide rates. One woman asked if we should also remove all rope from our homes, since youth were equally as likely to attempt suicide via suffocation.

"The focus doesn't need to be on the guns and the ropes," Frank Roberts, Roosevelt resident, said. "It needs to be on education. We have to able to talk to our kids about suicide."

Lori Jo White agreed.

"I think that if someone is determined to commit suicide, whether or not they have a gun doesn't matter," she said. "We need to be able to talk about suicide, and we don't do that here. It's a taboo subject. We're all just supposed to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps."

That "cowboy up" culture of Utah and much of the western U.S. is considered one of the factors in the high suicide rates of the region.

"The Rocky Mountain region is known as 'suicide valley,'" Jeremy Tubbs, health educator with Tricounty Health, said. "We're an independent, 'pull yourself up by your bootstraps' kind of people. Most of us live rural. We have varied access to mental healthcare. And in our area, there's a stigma about mental illness. All of those things are factors."

Tubbs said that combating the stigma often comes down to our ability to talk openly and frankly about suicide--something that many find too difficult to do. She trained meeting attendees on a system called QPR: question, persuade and refer.

"Just like CPR, QPR can save a life," Tubbs said. "It's not intended to be counseling or treatment. It just offers hope in a positive way."

She said that whenever we're concerned that someone is displaying signs of depression or suicide, we should ask. There's a myth that talking about suicide might plant the idea in someone's head, but data has proven that to be untrue.

"Asking about suicide, if you have concerns, is essential," Tubbs said. "For most people who attempt suicide, they're ambivalent right up to the very end. They don't want to die. They just want their pain to stop, and they believe death is the only way to do it. Almost all attempts to get someone to reconsider suicide will be successful and will be met with relief."

The first step asking, if someone answers that they are considering suicide, the next step is to persuade them to get help. Finally, you should refer them to a professional. The best way is to take them directly to get help and remain with them until they're safe. However, when that is not possible, secure a promise that they will get help or that they won't harm themselves until help is available.

"It's okay to admit that you don't know what to do, but tell them that you'll figure it out together," Tubbs said. "Remember that suicide is not the problem. It's a solution to a perceived problem that people often need help solving."

For more information about suicide prevention or the QPR training, contact Tricounty Health Department at 435-722-6300.


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