Guest opinion: Mental fitness for suicide prevention

May marks Mental Health Awareness Month, and this past week was National Prevention Week (NWP) to raise awareness around preventing substance abuse and to promote positive mental health. A year ago we were staring into the abyss with a global pandemic, and the toll this catastrophe has taken on mental health is immeasurable. 

Utah’s suicide rate has been higher than the national rate for decades. Every 24 hours two Utahns die from suicide; around twelve make the attempt. It is the leading cause of death for our youth, ages 10 to 17, and the second leading cause for adults ages 25 to 44. 

Improving our mental health and preventing this emotional tragedy must be a top priority. Toward this end, the Salt Lake Chamber’s social impact foundation, Utah Community Builders, has created resources for businesses to help their employees. The working idea is simple and has two steps: 1) we need to erase the stigma surrounding mental health challenges so we can discuss it openly, and 2) provide resources and access to professionals for employees and their families. 

No one should struggle with this issue alone and drift toward suicide, particularly if we are successful in addressing challenges early, and the resource guide for business outlines a three-part strategy for prevention, using the metaphor of falling into a stream. Addressing challenges early on is what can be done while the individual is still upstream and has not yet fallen into the raging water. Midstream strategies can be used when the individual has fallen and mental health is declining. This helps those in the early stages of a crisis or substance abuse problem. Downstream strategies are focused on stopping the spiral of decline to prevent employees from making an irreversible decision or sinking to a crisis event. 

If a suicide occurs for an employee or a family member, it becomes essential that those around that individual respond in a safe and supportive way. Downstream actions of getting the person help and support can make the difference in preventing another mental health crisis and ample resources, including a coalition plan, are available for those in need. Several Utah businesses are well qualified to help provide real and even urgent support to employees and their families. 

A few of these local companies include: Blomquist Hale SolutionsBlunovusSafeLane HealthRoom Here, and Zenovate. All provide access to licensed therapists, assessment tools, training, and evidence based advice to improve and strengthen mental fitness. 

The Huntsman family has also made possible the creation of the Huntsman Mental Health Institute. This institute will stand as a landmark to meet mental health challenges and offer  preemptive care, rural mental health initiatives and a treatment facility for acute cases. 

Mental health is a continuum, and the more individuals at risk can be appropriately moved away from early precipitating factors, the more likely they can be helped.  In this effort, employers can assist in identifying risk factors and promoting positive messages. It is helpful to know the excellent community resources dedicated for suicide prevention in Utah

With these resources, all Utahns can find what they need to take action in some way to help themselves or those in need. All it takes is a commitment, and we can even do that with the help of the organization Room Here, by taking an individual pledge, knowing that what we do today can save a life tomorrow.