Special invitations were sent out to several Tooele County church leaders to attend this Saturday’s 2017 Religious Summit for Suicide Prevention, according to the event’s promoters.
But others concerned about helping to prevent suicide are invited, too.
“For over three years, various agencies and community partners have been making concerted efforts to help reduce suicide in our community,” said Heidi Peterson, director of Tooele City Communities that Care. “While suicide is often thought of in silence, we know and understand that the solution lies in bringing the conversation to the table together. Talking safely about suicide saves lives.”
Peterson said that learning to create an environment of safety and hope within religious congregations can go a long way to reduce stigma and build social norms that promote help-seeking and resilience in the face of hard times.
“We invite any and all people interested in this objective to join us,” she said.
The event is set for Saturday at St. Marguerite Catholic Church from 8:30 a.m. until noon.
“It will be held specifically for those who have stewardship and influence in our local faith community as they seek to educate, promote, and support congregations as they work to build cultures of safety and hope,” Peterson said.
She provided statistics from the Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition that show that one in 15 Utahns have thought about suicide. The state’s suicide rate ranks fifth in the nation with 22.43 suicides per 100,000 population. The national suicide rate is 13.26 per 100,000 population.
Faith groups and religious organizations can do a lot to help save lives from suicide, Peterson said. Utah has one of the highest rates of religiosity in the nation. It is the most religious state, with 51 percent of Utah residents reporting they attend church each week, according to statistics from a 2015 Gallup News poll.
The Religious Summit for Suicide Prevention aims to unite people of various faiths with this objective in mind, Peterson said.
Travis Baer, program director for LDS Social Services, will be the featured speaker at the event.
“My focus is going to be on how to provide hope to those considering suicide,” Baer said. “Religious leaders are in direct connection with their congregants and also have the opportunity to be good eyes and ears discerning the risk factors.”
He said suicide is a complex issue.
“People might think there is just one factor involved when it actually is a very complex issue,” Baer said. “We want to make sure we understand it better and understand the risk factors.
“The biggest thing we know is that 90 percent who commit suicide have a diagnosis of mental illness,” he said. “I’m happy that Heidi is putting this together as an interfaith community event.”
After the 2015 Religious Summit for Suicide Prevention, Richard Droubay, of the LDS Tooele South Stake, said that making local religious leaders more fully aware of the risks and problems that surround them allows a sense of compassion to be focused and directed, as well as deepened, in more productive ways.
“Rather than just being concerned or feeling sorry for those going through difficulties, a sense of compassion, coupled with an understanding of potential problems, enables our people to compassionately act to prevent potential problems and tragedies,” Droubay said. “It is the difference between responding lovingly to a tragedy versus acting in responsible and caring ways to prevent the tragedy.”
Those in attendance Saturday will become familiar with local resources for those at risk for suicide, and be certified in a research-based program for suicide prevention called QPR — Question. Persuade. Refer.
Peterson said QPR has been taught in Tooele County for four years.
“Through this program, over 4,500 people have been trained to know and recognize the warning signs and risk factors associated with suicide,” Peterson said. “Better yet, they have been trained on a three-step skill on how to communicate with a person at risk in a way that will promote hope and allow them to connect the person at risk with professional help.”
The event’s sponsoring agencies include Tooele City Communities That Care, Tooele County Health Department, Valley Behavioral Health, and Life’s Worth Living Foundation. For those who would like more information or have questions about this event, please contact Peterson at Tooele City at 435-843-2188.