Editor’s note: This is the second of a series of articles on depression and suicide awareness and prevention in Tooele County.
A record-breaking number of deaths by suicide rocked Tooele County communities in 2014.
In the nine years leading up to 2014, deaths by suicide in Tooele County averaged eight per year. In 2014, the number of suicide deaths in the county reached 22.
While community efforts to combat suicide preceded 2014, the unusual high number of deaths by suicide in 2014 prompted several new suicide prevention efforts in the county.
A coalition of local prevention specialists, which included representatives of Tooele City’s Communities that Care, the Tooele County Health Department, Valley Behavioral Health, and the Tooele County School District, had identified teen suicide prevention as a community priority in 2012.
In 2014, Communities that Care, in conjunction with its community partners, started offering QPR training for the public.
QPR, which stands for Question, Persuade and Refer, trains local residents in research-backed methods for responding to potentially fatal mental health crises in much the same way CPR equips laymen to address medical emergencies, according to Heidi Peterson, Communities that Care director.
People attending the 90-minute QPR course learn how to question a person about suicide, persuade the person to get help, and refer the person to appropriate resources.
In May, Communities that Care reported that over 3,000 people in Tooele County had completed QPR training.
In addition to conducting QPR training for the public, upon invitation Communities that Care also takes QPR training to businesses, civic groups, religious organizations, and other groups.
Information about Communities That Care, including QPR training dates, can found at http://tooelecity.org/city-departments/communities-that-care.
The suicide deaths of 2014 also prompted the establishment of a new community organization.
Jon Gossett, and other community members touched by suicide, came together to organization the Life’s Worth Living Foundation.
The Foundation is a local nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that expends all the contributions it receives on its three-fold mission of suicide awareness, prevention, and education, according to Gossett.
The Life’s Worth Living Foundation hosts a support group that meets on the fourth Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. at Mountain West Medical Center.
The support group’s meetings are open to the public, but privacy is deeply respected, according to Gossett.
Anyone needing support, especially those who have lost a family member or a friend to suicide, or may be contemplating suicidal thoughts themselves, are welcome to attend, he said.
The foundation also awards scholarships, based on the availability of funds, to high school seniors in Tooele County that are survivors of suicide, such as they have experienced the loss of a parent or sibling.
The foundation also sponsors “SafeTalk” training, a suicide awareness and prevention program and “Talk Saves Lives,” a community based information program on suicide awareness and what people can do to fight suicide.
Life’s Worth Living has also hosted various speakers and community events.
A coalition of volunteers helps Life’s worth Living Foundation to further its mission.
Additional information on the Life’s Worth Living Foundation, including how to volunteer for its coalition, can be found at http://lifesworthlivingfoundation.org.
Following the suicide death of several students in 2014, the school district stepped up its efforts at suicide prevention.
School district officials brought in Aaron Chidester, director of United4Life, a Vancouver, Washington-based nonprofit suicide prevention organization.
Chidester spoke to parents, students, and school staff about suicide prevention.
The school district organized Hope Squads, a peer-to-peer suicide prevention program, in secondary schools. It also organized Buddy Squads, students taught to supports kids who need a friend, in elementary schools.
The school district also adopted Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, or PBIS, district-wide.
“If I could just get real for a minute, I’ll tell you that last year, we had seven students that died by suicide,” said Scott Rogers, district superintendent “For me and for many of you, it’s not just a number. There are names. There are families and friends that were affected.”
PBIS is a proactive approach to establishing the behavioral supports to improve social, emotional and academic outcomes for all students.
The school district received a five-year, $2.4 million grant in 2014 to improve the learning environment in schools and promote school safety.
The grant included funds to expand the Second Step curriculum to all elementary and junior high schools.
The Second Step curriculum helps students acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions, according to the curriculum’s developers.
The grant also included funds for the district to use to pay for counseling for students that need professional counseling but can’t afford it.
The school district has also conducted training for teachers in bullying and suicide prevention, including QPR training.
The Tooele Education Support Processional Association — the group that represents school bus drivers, lunch room workers, secretaries, custodians, playground aides, classroom paraprofessionals, bus attendants, literacy aides, maintenance workers and more — dedicated two full days of district-wide training to the topics of bullying and suicide prevention.
The Tooele County School District adopted an internet based tool in 2014 for students and parents to use for reporting safe school violations such as bullying, violence, harassment, gangs, drugs, suicide, and abusive behavior.
In April 2016 the school district replaced its Internet based tool with the statewide smartphone app called SafeUT.
With one touch of their phone, the SafeUT app puts the user in direct contact by chat or by voice with a crisis counselor at the University of Utah’s Neuropsychiatric Institute. It is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The SafeUT app also can be used to report information on bullying, suicide, sexual misconduct, planned school attacks, and other safety issues.
The SafeUT app is a mobile application that is compatible with both Apple and Android devices.
It can be downloaded at Apple and Google play stores.