Commentary: Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month

Commentary: Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month

September is Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month, and it’s especially important in our community due to the high rates of suicide and suicide attempts in Utah.

According to the Utah Department of Health, a yearly average of 627 Utahns die by suicide and 4,574 attempt suicide. That means, on average, two Utahns die by suicide and 13 are treated for suicide attempts every day.

Many of us struggle with the “why” of suicide, and more and more studies are being conducted to better understand this enormous public health problem. But currently there are more studies on how to treat arachnophobia than on how to prevent suicide.

Many theories regarding the “why” behind the high rates of suicides in Utah have been formulated. Those theories include altitude and, more specifically, lower oxygen that results in lower serotonin levels (a condition linked with suicide) and higher levels of dopamine, which is linked with the reward center of the brain and risk-taking behaviors. Other theories include a culture of perfection and lack of access to mental health resources in rural areas. Rural areas also tend to have higher opioid and drug abuse, which is also linked to higher rates of suicide, as well as financial distress due to scarcity of higher paying jobs. Utah also has significantly higher rates of prescriptions for antidepressants. Another theory is the masculine theory, i.e. the culture’s stigmas of what it means to be male, thus creating reluctance to seek help. Studies have also considered such cultural factors as easier access to guns and self-reliance.

These theories may point to risk factors and help us better understand the why. I personally believe that when any of these factors are present, our brains can become ill and unable to identify or implement strategies for coping or problem solving. In more than 20 years as a therapist, I’ve identified that once the stressors exceed our ability to cope, then withdrawal and isolation occur. Without connection and support, the problems and stressors often become unmanageable.

One of the most significant strategies we can employ is to create connection by getting to know and interacting with each other. Employ the ACE model of “ask, care, and escort” and know how to ask whether someone is contemplating suicide. It’s imperative that we show genuine concern for the welfare of our teammates and that we’re able provide help when needed.

Another strategy is to educate ourselves. There are numerous free classes within the community to help people feel empowered to assist when needs have been identifies. The Utah Department of Health currently offers training sessions each month. For details, contact Amy Mikkelsen via email at

The state of Utah also has a SAFE UTAH app that can link you with assistance, the 24/7 crisis line 1-800-273-TALK, and — a website that not only educates but also provides opportunities for involvement in the fight against suicide in our community.

As your Director of Psychological Health, I am always available for one-on-one or group discussions, as I am very passionate about suicide awareness. You and your story matters, and I’m available to be there with you at 801-657-1233.

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