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Utah wants to vanquish 'dark places' of suicide

FILE - Gov. Gary Herbert at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2015.
FILE - Gov. Gary Herbert at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2015.
Stacie Scott, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Taryn Hiatt and her family watched her father battle mental illness and drug addiction until he finally succumbed to its domination and took his own life.

That was 15 years ago, and with each new suicide she hears of, she is reminded of his pain and the dark places she would visit in her mind as a young woman.

The Teen Suicide Prevention Task Force on Tuesday unveiled its list of recommendations to set up a mental health-triage system of sorts to staunch the flow of needless deaths.

"I think this is a good start. It is just a start. It is not the end," Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said at a press conference at the state Capitol.

Hiatt, since her father's death, has made it her quest to prevent other losses of life, going on to become the founding chairwoman of the Utah chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. She most recently became the area director of both the Nevada and Utah regions.

"People are starting to have the conversation, and we've come a long, long way," she said. "But there is still so much left to do."

The task force focused its recommendations around three broad areas: crisis response, reducing risk factors and protective measures.

Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy and one of the task force leaders, said research shows the state could cut youth suicide by 50 percent if parents took the simple step to put a trigger lock on guns. More than 40,000 are available for distribution.

Eliason said the state also wants to expand the statewide crisis line and mobile emergency response units that respond to a person's home free of charge if someone is at risk of suicide.

The SafeUT app, introduced two years ago, needs to be more widely available and working in communities, and teenagers and young adults need to be made aware of its function in a crisis situation.

The app provides counseling and crisis intervention 24/7 and allows students to report instances of bullying and at-risk behavior.

Herbert said he is going to drop the name "teen" from the state suicide task force so he can broaden its efforts, including reaching out to at-risk groups like Native Americans, the LGBT community and military — all of which are prone to higher than average suicide rates.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, called suicide one of the most critical challenges facing the country. Hatch has a bill asking the Federal Communications Commission to create a national three digit hotline for suicide prevention.

Utah's youth suicide rate on average has tripled since 2007 and is the leading cause of death for children ages 11 to 17.