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Hope in a crisis: School, community leaders unite in response to youth suicide concerns

The mountains southeast of Lone Peak
The mountains southeast of Lone Peak
Ravell Call, Deseret News

HIGHLAND — With concerned eyes and taking extensive notes, leaders from the Lone Peak community met with questions about preventing and responding to youth suicide among teenagers and children.

"How would you say we go about talking to our youth about this?" one LDS bishop asked.

Community, school, law enforcement and religious leaders met in response to recent suicide attempts and two deaths in the area, including a Lone Peak High School student who died Wednesday. The message they heard was on fostering hope and support now, while providing solutions moving forward.

The discussion Friday, led by Hope 4 Utah President Greg Hudnall, allowed the room full of adult leaders to ask honest questions about how they can recognize potential suicide or self-harm risk among the young people they supervise, and how to respond when someone in the community attempts suicide.

The suicide crisis is not confined to Lone Peak or any one school in Utah, Hudnall said, and it's a real and pressing problem that must be met by an entire community. There is no room for blame in responding to a suicide, he emphasized.

"Our goal is saving our youth while changing the public perception of suicide prevention," Hudnall said. "What we want to do in the end is we want to figure out how we can heal the community."

The group met in a small theater at Lone Peak High School, where anonymous messages of "you are loved" had been left by students in classrooms and hallways, and where informal memorials honoring the deceased student have been taking place.

Hudnall and members of Hope 4 Utah and other support organizations addressed concerns of contagion, weighing how to allow students to grieve without creating an emotional, publicized atmosphere following a death that might motivate another at-risk individual to also attempt suicide.

Risk factors and warning signs are listed on the Hope 4 Utah website, Hope4Utah.com, along with statistics, contact information for mental health agencies and resources for schools.

Members of the Hope 4 Utah Crisis Team — including representatives from Wasatch Mental Health, Intermountain Healthcare, the BYU counseling center and Aspen Counseling Services — encouraged small-group discussions with young people in the wake of a suicide rather than large gatherings or public events.

The focus should be placed on allowing youths to openly express concerns and understand their feelings, especially in a setting away from their regular peer group or parents.

"When someone is struggling emotionally, we tend to spend a lot of time trying to fix things and not enough time listening," Hudnall said. "Spend a lot of time listening."

The Utah Health Department lists suicide as the leading cause of death of children between ages 10 and 17, and the state ranks ninth in the nation for suicides among youths, Hudnall explained.

Hope 4 Utah's approach is three-pronged: addressing suicide prevention, intervention and "postvention" following an attempt.

Right now, Lone Peak and the surrounding community are focused on "dealing with the immediate crisis," Hudnall said.

A group called Lone Peak Community for Hope has been organized and will be providing resources and information for dealing with teen crisis on its Facebook page.

During the meeting, a Lone Peak counselor reported that over two days, more than 200 students came to visit with the school's six full-time counselors. As many as half didn't know the student who had died, but now wanted to discuss new or lingering feelings or concerns that had surfaced. Others wanted to talk about their friends, sharing their concerns for other students' well-being.

Hudnall advocates for dedicated suicide prevention specialists in each school, a position Lone Peak Principal Rhonda Bromley said the school is looking to establish through Wasatch Mental Health.

By Friday, hundreds of people, including students at other schools, had reached out to Lone Peak to offer support and ask how to help, she said.

Following the meeting, Bromley spoke of the renewed sense of hope she felt, which she hopes to communicate to others.

"To have an action plan for our community, to be able to say, 'Here's what we're going to do,' I feel so encouraged," she said. "I'm excited and grateful."

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, there are resources to help. Call the UNI Crisis Line at 801-587-3000, the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org. Regardless of where the call is from, people will be connected with those in their area who can help.

Email: mromero@deseretnews.com, Twitter: McKenzieRomero