Getting to Tomorrow: Addressing Suicide in Utah and the Mountain States

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Since the turn of the millennium, suicide has been on the rise nationally. However, suicide rates differ significantly from state to state. And from a regional perspective, some of the highest rates are in the Mountain States, a grouping that includes Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada and Wyoming. Of these states, all except Arizona were among the top 10 states for suicide mortality in 2016.

Each suicide has significant ripple effects. A life and its potential are lost. Family and friends are traumatized, left wondering what they might have done differently. In some cases, a copycat phenomenon may emerge, in which peers or (in the case of celebrity suicide) members of the general public may see suicide as an appropriate action.

Yet the phenomenon of suicide remains poorly understood, and the contexts behind suicide vary significantly. As a result, the policy-level interventions vary widely, and their applicability may be highly tailored or experimental. In general, the data on their success are sorely lacking.

Key Findings of this Report

  • Since the early 2000s, suicide rates have been on the rise in Utah, in the Mountain States and nationally.
  • Suicide rates are particularly high in Utah and the Mountain States.
  • Various factors may relate to the higher suicide rates found in the Mountain States. Among them, high average elevation stands out as consistent among states with high suicide rates.
  • Within the state, the highest suicide rates appear to cluster in five contiguous Utah counties.
  • The Utah counties with the highest suicide rates also tend to have high opioid prescription rates.
  • Suicide deaths are a predominantly male phenomenon.
  • Suicide rates have increased significantly in every age group since the turn of the millennium, with more pronounced increases during the past decade.
  • In Utah, the highest suicide rates by far are among working age adults.
  • Both public schools and higher education institutions have heightened opportunities to promote mental health, offer suicide prevention training and provide intervention. However, efforts vary greatly among institutions.
  • The State of Utah has been attempting to address suicide through numerous pieces of legislation over the past five years. At the federal level, Utah Congressmembers are working to improve the national suicide prevention hotline.
  • Addressing suicide will require action on a broad range of fronts.
  • To craft successful suicide prevention efforts over the long term, decision makers must invest in data collection and research to measure outcomes, where possible.
  • Ultimately, intervention requires individualized care and thus the promotion of access to highly trained mental health professionals.
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