No surge in suicides during the COVID-19 pandemic

Sep 7, 2021, 5:00 AM
AUTISM AND SUICIDE prevention in schools suicides pandemic...
FILE: A drawing hangs along with other messages of hope and remembrance as part of Suicide Prevention Day at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020. Legislation under consideration in 2021 would expand suicide prevention programs to all grade levels. Photo: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — With the 5th highest suicide rate in the nation, the state of Utah has been spending millions in recent years to prevent suicides. How effective has the effort been? Experts say the SafeUT smartphone app and other new resources have been doing their job, even in during the difficult months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pandemic does not result in increased suicides

“The suicide prevention work we’ve been doing in Utah is paying off,” said Michael Staley, who tracks suicides and suicide attempts for the state medical examiner’s office.

“We’re hanging on there. Our suicide rate is not going up,” he told KSL NewsRadio.

The SafeUT smartphone app gives a student – or a health care worker, a National Guard member or a first responder – immediate access to a professional social worker who can listen and offer help.

Related: Schools on the front lines of suicide prevention

Rachel Lucynski, who runs the program for the Huntsman Mental Health Institute, says the SafeUT app saves somebody almost every day.

“So we had about 300 students that had planned to harm themselves or attempt to end their lives. Our team was able to coordinate with school administrators and with law enforcement to get the life-saving help that they needed,” Lucynski told KSL NewsRadio in an interview.

New tools to prevent suicides

State Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, has championed Utah’s suicide prevention efforts. He says a series of new crisis care centers will also help prevent suicides during the pandemic and beyond. 

“Kind of think of a psychiatric emergency room, where they specialize in mental health issues,” Eliason said. “It will be a better resource for a lot of people than an emergency room. It will also be available to law enforcement.”

Groundbreaking recently took place for a new crisis care center situated between the Salt Lake County Jail and the homeless resource center near 1000 West and 3300 South in South Salt Lake.

McKinley Withers, who directs health and wellness programs for Jordan School District, says he’s optimistic about Utah’s efforts in suicide prevention.

“People are becoming more and more comfortable about talking about and getting help for mental health struggles,” he said.

Suicide prevention resources

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, call the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.

Crisis Hotlines

  • Utah County Crisis Line: 801-691-5433
  • Salt Lake County/UNI Crisis Line: 801-587-3000
  • Wasatch Mental Health Crisis Line: 801-373-7393
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Trevor Project Hotline for LGBTQ teens: 1-866-488-7386

Online resources

Warning signs of suicide

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Thoughts or comments 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.

Information from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. 

What to do if you see warning signs of suicide

  • 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

Information from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. 

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No surge in suicides during the COVID-19 pandemic