Rising rural suicide rate takes center stage

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Suicide prevention dominated the conversation at a Delta Area Chamber luncheon March 13.

Julie Varner, Intermountain Healthcare’s Community Health Improvement specialist, provided statistics on the spreading pandemic of suicide across the western United States and training that has helped save lives, including the QPR method.

Utah lies firmly in what is commonly called “The Suicide Belt;” comprised of the Southwestern and Pacific Northwest states—so called due to high suicide rates. Utah itself rates above the national average.

From 2009 to 2017, 49,000 deaths were attributed to society in the United States, Varner said. Nationally, there is one suicide every 11 minutes; that adds up to 129 suicides per day. An estimated 6,952 young people aged 16 to 24 die by suicide each year—that’s a rate of one death every two hours, according to data collected in 2017.

According to the Utah Health Department, 628 people committed suicide from 2015 to 2017, averaging 22 people every 100,000. Suicide was the leading cause of death for people aged 10 to 17 and 18 to 24; the second leading cause for people aged 25 to 44 and fourth leading cause for ages 45 to 64.

Utah also ranks very high in male suicides, with the highest demographic being among the young and elderly aged 85 and above, Varner said.

“This is not okay,” Varner said. “We don’t want anyone dying at any age.”

There is no one absolute factor for suicide; cultural expectations, mental health and even elevation have all been blamed for high suicide rates in the western United States. Lack of access to proper resources and isolation in rural areas and access to weapons has also been painted red as the key element in suicides.

“There are many factors involved,” Varner said. “There isn’t one perfect answer.”From 2010 to 2014, there were 1,399 firearm suicides in the United States. In Utah, 86 percent of firearm deaths were suicides.

Males are often reported to use lethal—or violent—means, Varner said, typically resorting to guns.

“If they’re having suicidal thoughts and they act on it, they’re more likely to be successful in fulfilling it,” Varner said.Females generally use non-lethal means, such as prescription medications, though lethal means are on the rise.

Varner encourages firearms be kept in a safe, secure area, and a lock be used on the trigger at all times; especially if a loved one is expressing suicidal intent and knows the location of a firearm.

“If a loved one is at risk, you can store a firearm away from the home until they are recovered,” Varner said. Changing locks or keeping ammunition locked separately from the firearm is also suggested.

Watch for direct clues of suicidal intent. If someone outright expresses their wish to die, or begins to act suspiciously, such as beginning to give away prized possessions, be aware of their possible intent to kill themselves, Varner said.

In order to help loved ones struggling with suicidal thoughts, Varner encourages people to use the QPR method: Question, Prevent, Refer.

If you suspect someone is feeling suicidal or intends to commit suicide, QPR encourages loved ones to be direct, but non-judgmental with questions.

“Make sure you’re listening to what they’re saying,” Varner said. “You need to make them feel heard and be their support.”

A direct approach such as ‘are you thinking about suicide?’ and non-direct questions, similar to ‘Have you been unhappy lately?’ ‘Do you ever wish you could go to sleep and never wake up?’ are encouraged phrases.

If a person admits they’ve considered killing themselves, persuade them to stay alive.

“Listen to the problem and give them your full attention,” Varner said. “Remember that suicide is not the problem; it’s their solution to an insoluble problem. Offer help in any form.”

Once you’ve listened, persuade the person to seek treatment. Offer statements like ‘will you go see a counselor with me?’ or ‘Will you promise me you won’t hurt yourself until we can get help?’

Varner also said scheduling social appointments can potentially help distract someone from harming him or herself. “Generally, even if it’s something like going to the movies, that gives them something to look forward to, and they’re less likely to hurt themselves,” she said.

Getting someone to agree not to attempt or complete suicide is a crucial step during the persuasion period, Varner said. “You need to be specific and say not to complete or attempt.”

Referring a person to a mental health professional is the final step of QPR. The best referrals are made once an appointment is scheduled and the person is taken directly to treatment.

“The second best is to get a commitment from them to accept help and make arrangements,” Varner said.
Millard County has local resources available to help deal with mental health and suicidal intent and are listed below.

Four Point Community Health Center, 157 N Reservation Drive, Kanosh Ut, 84637.

Central Utah Counseling Center; 90 N Main St., Fillmore, UT and 51 N. Center St., Delta UT.

Delta Community Hospital, 126 White Sage Ave., Delta, UT.

The Behavioral Health Network can be contacted at 435-851-5206. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline can be called 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.

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