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Fight suicide with awareness

Suicide leaves so many unanswered questions, so much guilt and so much grief.

Experts tell us that untreated mental illness is a key component in many suicides. Some families don't recognize the signs. Others observe changes in their child's behavior but they are in denial that their child may suffer from a mental illness. They hesitate to seek treatment because of the stigma attached to the disease. The fact is, mental health treatment is highly effective. New medications and therapies have greatly improved in recent years.

Some people just aren't aware of that.

HOPE, a task force of public and private entities in Utah County, aims to change that. The group was assembled after Utah County's 2001 suicide rate for 10- to 19-year-olds exceeded the statewide rate. Some those children were under age 13.

Nine students in the Provo School District — including one elementary student —committed suicide over the past five years. Another 300 tried.

HOPE, an acronym for hold on, persuade, empower, will conduct a one-day conference on April 12 at Brigham Young University to take on this issue. Rick Birkel, executive director of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, will be the keynote speaker.

Parents, educators and others involved in the care and education of children are encouraged to attend this conference to learn more about suicide, suicide prevention and mental illness.

The efforts of HOPE, which began as a proj ect between the Provo School District and Provo city but is now a countywide effort including churches, state agencies and civic groups, are to be applauded. Families need to be aware of the danger signs as well as the prospects for successful treatment. They also need to know how to talk to their children about changes in their behavior.

Raising physically and mentally healthy children depends primarily upon their families. But as the efforts of HOPE suggest, all people in a child's sphere of influence need to recognize warning signs and link the youth and his or her family to help. HOPE is a wonderful example of that shared responsibility.