SALT LAKE CITY — Offering "thoughts and prayers" for the victims of a mass shooting or other tragedy has a bad rap in today's political climate. But there is power in asking God's help for those who suffer, according to Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox.
Speaking Friday at an event launching Utah's participation in the national weekend of prayer for suicide prevention, he praised those who turn to a higher power as they address mental health concerns.
"If we bring that spirit of humanity, that spirit of help together, we can actually change lives," he said.
Rising suicide rates are a significant public health issue in Utah and across the United States. Around 4,000 Utahns attempt suicide each year and the state has the highest prevalence of suicidal thoughts among adults in the country, according to state and national data.
In response, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert launched a youth suicide prevention task force and signed eight pieces of legislation this year related to mental health.
But policymakers can't solve a nationwide crisis of disconnection and isolation alone, Cox said. They need the help of families and faith leaders, everyday people who are willing to talk about a difficult topic in the hope of saving lives.
This weekend, hundreds of religious leaders in the U.S. will play their part when they mark the National Weekend of Prayer for Faith, Hope and Life. They'll offer prayers and sermons on mental health, seeking to comfort those who have lost a loved one to suicide or currently struggle with suicidal thoughts.
"One of the hardest things I've had to learn in the past several years is that the suicide epidemic, depression and mental illness isn't something happening outside the church walls. It's something happening right there in front of you," said the Rev. Logan Wolf, lead pastor of CrossPoint Church, during Friday's event on the state Capitol grounds.
The event celebrated the Rev. Wolf and other Utah faith leaders who plan to take part in the national prayer weekend. Herbert helped recruit them by sending a letter to more than 300 clergy that Cox read to the assembled crowd.
"Let us pray for guidance and inspiration for intervention, the courage to reach out to one another, for patience in listening and learning, and for increased kindness to all," the letter stated. Herbert will also release a declaration Monday recognizing Sept. 10 as World Suicide Prevention Day.
Cox, framed by faith leaders and members of the governor's suicide prevention task force, warned that those who pray about mental health and suicide often end up with more work to do.
"I believe that God hears and answers our prayers, but I believe he almost always answers our prayers through other people," he said. "If you are a believer and you pray on this weekend to help prevent suicide, he will probably give you a task, an opportunity to change the life of someone around you."
Prayers this weekend can lead people to the resources that save lives, said Elder LeGrand Curtis Jr., a member of the Quorum of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"My prayer is that we will all recognize things that we can do to help those around us who might be struggling and that we will have the courage to do those things," he said.
If you or someone you love struggles with suicidal thoughts, help is available through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) and the SafeUT app.