OGDEN — This past summer, Kristin Barlow got word of yet another teen suicide in her Brigham City community. For her, it was the last straw.
“There’s been this growing concern, especially in Box Elder county, with a high rate of suicide. Utah is No. 5 in the nation for suicides, and it’s the No. (2) cause of teen deaths in the state. … That disturbed me," Barlow told the Deseret News. "I thought, ‘Something needs to be done.'”
Barlow, who owns two dance studios in Brigham City, took quick action. Harnessing her 26 years of dance experience, she brought together dance studios from across the state and even professional dancer Sophia Lucia, who was featured on the Lifetime show "Dance Moms," for the first-ever Dance for Life Suicide Prevention Benefit Performance on Saturday, Sept. 29.
“We have a great group coming to show unity for this issue … every single one of them had an experience in their own studio of someone whose family member had committed suicide. … (The support) has been amazing. We want to honor those lost,” Barlow said.
Since her inspiration in July, Barlow has hit the ground running — and the outpouring of support has been unprecedented. Nearly every dance studio rearranged its packed schedules to accommodate this timely cause — including 16-year-old dancer Sophia. After reaching out to the young dancer's agent, Barlow was able to secure Sophia as the benefit concert's headliner, also booking to lead several master dancer classes the weekend of the performance.
The next step was to decide to whom the ticket proceeds should go. After extensive research, Barlow decided on NUHOPE, a coalition of mental health providers, educators and survivors who promote suicide education and prevention training in Weber County.
"NUHOPE started back when mental health and suicide were not commonly spoken about," said Kristy Jones, chair of NUHOPE Suicide Prevention Task Force, in an interview with the Deseret News. "I feel that over the past 12 years we have seen an increase in awareness in the community and a willingness to acknowledge mental health issues and suicidal ideation."
Barlow also contacted Laura Warburton, founder of Live Hannah’s Hope, an organization driven to empower youths and reduce teen suicide. After losing her 16-year-old daughter Hannah to suicide four years ago, Warburton had one mission: to understand and stop this trend.
“What I wanted more than anything was to learn why she decided to end her life and to help others so they wouldn’t have to go through the same thing that I did,” Warburton told the Deseret News.
Since her daughter’s passing, Warburton has been fiercely involved with suicide prevention. She has worked closely with Sen. Orrin Hatch’s office to pass legislation. "Hannah’s Bill" ensures that suicide hotlines are staffed and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Warburton will say a few words before the performance starts.
For the event itself, Barlow secured a variety of esteemed Utah dance ensembles, including Ballet West and Brigham Young University Ballroom Dance, with Odyssey Dance Theatre in the works. The dances will explore sensitive topics like suicide and bullying, but the main objectives of their performances are to inspire hope and open a dialogue, through dance, about suicide prevention.
“If this goes well, we’d like to extend it nationally and even internationally — it’s a world problem,” Barlow said.
“(Our goal) is to get more funding for some of these nonprofit advocacy groups, to get more counseling in schools, more (conversations) about bullying, social media impact and to get over the (mental health) stigma," she said. "You know, we take care of our physical bodies so well, we need to take care of our mental health as well.”
So far, Barlow’s reach has moved beyond nonprofit organizations and even beyond the dance world — she has also been in contact with Utah state representatives who have been very supportive of her event and plan to be in attendance. Likewise, she contacted several Utah churches for their continued backing, including local clergy and Elder Ronald A. Rasband, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and advocate for the church's suicide initiative.
As Barlow sees it, bringing together all these organizations, from government to religion to the arts, sends exactly the message of support that inspired her in the first place.
“It’s important for kids to be involved in something that makes them feel special, makes them have self-esteem and confidence. The reason we’re doing this is to bring people together for a bigger cause than dance. … What’s more important is our lives.”
If you go …
What: Dance for Life Suicide Prevention Benefit Performance
When: Saturday, Sept. 29, 7 p.m.
Where: Ogden High School, 2828 Harrison Blvd., Ogden
How much: $12-$15