Editor’s note: This is the first of a series of articles on depression and suicide awareness and prevention in Tooele County.
Thursday is National Depression Screening Day. It comes on the heels of September, which was National Suicide Prevention Awareness month.
From 2013 to 2015 an average of 578 people died from suicide in Utah; 46 is the total number of deaths by suicide in Tooele County during those three years.
Utah’s suicide rate has been consistently higher than the suicide rate for the United States, according to data from the Utah Department of Health. 15.3, 23.8 and 30.5 are the suicide death rates per 100,000 people over the age of 10 for the United States, Utah and Tooele County from 2013 to 2015, respectively.
From 2006 to 2015, Tooele County averaged 10 deaths by suicide per year. In 2014 the number reached 22. That number dropped to 13 in 2015. Data for 2016 is not yet available.
In 2015, suicide was the leading cause of death for Utahns ages 10 to 17. It was the second leading cause of death for ages 18 to 24, and 25 to 44 and the fourth leading cause of death for ages 45 to 64. Overall, suicide was the seventh leading cause of death for Utahns over the age of 10 in 2015, according to the Utah Department of Health.
But there is hope for people with depression and suicidal thoughts that can’t be seen in the numbers or myths associated with mental illness, according to Doug Thomas, director of the state Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health. Thomas lives in Grantsville.
“There is help, there is hope, and recovery is possible,” Thomas said. “Most people who have suicidal thoughts and receive the support they need go on to live life without re-occurring suicidal episodes.”
But too often, people with depression and suicidal thoughts don’t get the help they need. Despite the availability of effective treatments for major depression, including medication and psychotherapeutic techniques, major depression is often unrecognized and untreated, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Symptoms of major depression may include fatigue or loss of energy, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, impaired concentration, loss of interest in daily activities, appetite or weight changes, sleep changes, and recurring thoughts of death or suicide, according to NAMI.
Most, but not all, people who die by suicide exhibit warning signs, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (See related side bar).
But even when symptoms of depression or suicide are present, people may not get help because there is a stigma attached to suicide and mental health, according to Thomas.
“If you or your loved one had a broken arm, or their blood sugar was low, you wouldn’t tell them to deal with it alone,” Thomas said. “You would encourage them to get professional help. Behavioral health problems are no different. Get help or talk to your loved one about getting help today.”
And talking about suicide is OK, according to Thomas.
“Talking to someone about suicide will not make him or her suicidal,” he said. “In fact it gives them permission to talk about it if they have been feeling suicidal. This helps reduce the stigma associated with suicidal feelings and thoughts, which increases opportunities for help-seeking.”
Preventing suicide is a community effort, according to Jon Gossett, president and founder of the Life’s Worth Living Foundation.
“Be there for your neighbor,” Gossett said. “If you see somebody who is struggling or looks down, don’t be afraid to approach them and talk to them, even if you don’t know them. Don’t think somebody else will do it. You have to approach it as if you are the only to notice it, because you just might be the only one to reach out to them.”
People who attempt suicide and get treated don’t necessarily go back and try suicide again, according to Gossett.
“It’s not true that people who try suicide will do it anyway,” Gossett said. “With proper treatment, they can live long lives.”
“Most people who are contemplating suicide do not actually want to die, but are looking for a way to relieve extreme pain,” Thomas said. “Suicide is not the answer. There is help available.”
While talking about suicide does not cause suicide, local and national experts on suicide suggest some cautions when talking and reporting about suicide publicly, according to Gossett.
“Most suicidologists don’t like the term ‘commit suicide,’” Gossett said. “You ‘commit a crime’ or ‘commit a sin,’ but people die by suicide.”
While being open and mentioning somebody died by suicide may be appropriate, discussing the details of the method of suicide is discouraged, according to Gossett.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention discourages media from reporting the location and method of suicide, including photos of grieving family members, friends, memorials, or funerals.
“It is important not to mention method of suicide in reporting as this can lead to possible suicide contagion or ‘copycat suicide,’” according to the foundation.
Following a death by suicide, it is important for the community to support those who have been bereaved by suicide, according to Thomas.
“This should be a time for healing, not judging,” he said.
Misinformation and inaccurate religious views of suicide create an environment that leaves survivors isolated and embarrassed, even though they may have been powerless to prevent the tragic event, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
The community can play a role in finding a fitting memorial outlet for youth that died from suicide and does not risk suicide contagion, according to Thomas.
“These may include personal expressions that can be given to the family to keep privately, such as letters, poetry, recollections captured on videotape, or works of art,” Thomas said. “It’s best to keep such expressions private. While artistic expression is often therapeutic for those experiencing grief, public performances of poems, plays, or songs may contain messages or create a climate that inadvertently increases thoughts of suicide among vulnerable youth.”
Alternatively, Thomas suggests that surviving friends can honor the deceased by living their lives in concert with community values, such as compassion, generosity, service, honor, and improving quality of life for all community members.
“Activity-focused memorials might include organizing a day of community service, sponsoring mental health awareness programs, supporting peer counseling programs, or fund-raising for some of the many worthwhile suicide prevention nonprofit organizations,” Thomas said.
In conjunction with National Depression Awareness Day, Thomas extends an invitation for people to participate in a quick and anonymous online depression screening at http://screening.mentalhealthscreening.org/stateofutah.
In Utah, 20.8 percent of adults experience major depression, severe enough to interfere with the ability to work, sleep, study, eat and enjoy life, according to the Utah Department of Health.
“Getting help for depression, or when things get hard, is a sign of strength not a sign of weakness,” Thomas said. “Strong people know when they need help and they ask for it.”
Steps to help prevent death by suicide
Warning signs of suicide
• Talking about wanting to die
• Looking for a way to kill oneself
• Talking about feeling hopeless or having
• Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
• Talking about being a burden to others
• Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
• Acting anxious, agitated or recklessly
• Sleeping too little or too much
• Withdrawing or feeling isolated
• Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
• Displaying extreme mood swings
The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. Warning signs are associated with suicide but may not be what causes a suicide.
What to do
If someone you know exhibits the above suicide warning signs:
• Do not leave the person alone
• Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt
• Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255)
• Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional
Source: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Other Local Resources
• Valley Behavioral Health 435-843-3520
• Life’s Worth Living hotline 435-248-LIVE
• Life’s Worth Living website http://lifes-worthlivingfoundation.org/
• Download the free app, SafeUT. The app puts the user in touch with a qualified counselor 24/7 either by voice or text.