“I want to die.” No mother wants to hear those words from her child.
My son gave me permission to share this experience to help others. He battles depression and we had been trying to connect him with doctors for help. It was 10:30 one night when he came to me and told me he was struggling with thoughts of suicide.
My heart ached for this boy who had patiently waited for help, but help could not come soon enough. He was in a dire situation and I didn’t know what to do. I sat there with him, racking my brain on where to turn. As an elected official on the Salt Lake County Council, I couldn’t believe I didn’t know whom I should call for help. I knew 911 wasn’t the right number to call, but I didn’t know where to turn.
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and, as a mother of four teenagers, I’m acutely aware of the statistics showing suicide is now the No. 1 killer of Utah teens. I am also now more aware of the fear and panic some parents feel when they desperately search for resources. We need a better way to connect these parents and individuals with crisis intervention resources to avert a tragedy.
The state has done a fantastic job with the SAFE UT app, which allows people to report unsafe behavior or receive crisis help. But we need more. We need a designated three digit crisis intervention line.
Utah’s crisis support resources are not centralized and not well-known. There are 19 crisis support numbers throughout the state. Someone who needs emergency help would first have to determine which phone number applies to his or her geographic area. When they do track down the number and call, he may be met with an answering machine or very limited hours.
These roadblocks are possibly life-threatening and completely unacceptable. Having a designated line (for counties that opt-in) would provide a simple, easy-to-remember phone number for Utahns experiencing a behavioral health emergency. This could be an opt-in for counties that would like to utilize it. It would connect with emergency intervention resources that we already know save lives — resources like the University of Utah Neuropsychiatric Institute, better known as “UNI.”
After the experience with my son, I’ve found UNI offers a fantastic help line. Someone is always there to answer the call when you dial 801-587-3000. When you call, you talk to professionals who assess a situation, talk through issues and provide resources.
Whether you have suicidal thoughts, have been the victim of abuse, are struggling with a drug addiction or are a caregiver of someone in one of these situations, you can get help. It’s an amazing service we are lucky to have in Salt Lake County.
Fortunately, my son got the help he needed and is doing better. But I know many Utah families still struggle. Utah has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation. For the benefit of the residents I represent as well as everyone in the state, it’s time we recognize this health crisis. It’s time we designate and fund a three digit crisis line.
Aimee Winder Newton is a Republican on the Salt Lake County Council.