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In our opinion: Utah is crying for help with mental health

September is Suicide Prevention Month. Another heartbreaking loss need not happen before the tide begins to turn.

Close to 1 in 5 Utahns experience poor mental health. Suicide is the leading cause of death for Utahns between the ages of 10-24. More than half of Utahns with mental illness have not had treatment or counseling, and every county in the state is short of professionals and resources to meet growing demand. 
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Utah is crying for help on mental health, and the nation is watching to see what the state at the bottom can do to improve.

Close to 1 in 5 Utahns experience poor mental health. Suicide is the leading cause of death for Utahns between the ages of 10-24. More than half of Utahns with mental illness have not had treatment or counseling, and every county in the state is short of professionals and resources to meet growing demand.

This reality is spelled out in a new study on Utah’s mental health system from the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute and Utah Hospital Association, and they have a clear takeaway: Without change, Utah is headed for an overwhelming mental health crisis.

A rapidly growing state population, coupled with the shortage of providers and a newly expanded Medicaid program, means the problems will only multiply if left unchecked. To move mental health provider ratios closer to the national average, Utah will need to more than double its mental health workforce in the next 15 years.

As bleak as the situation may seem, a brighter, healthier future is possible.

Experts suggest that the ideal mental health system would: 1) Provide mental and physical health services in a timely manner, 2) Have consistent mental health screenings to identify possible risk and allow a path for earlier intervention and 3) Ensure there are enough resources and safe places to seek treatment.

Achieving success on all three points requires effort.

It requires Utahns to educate themselves and dissolve remaining negative stigmas and normalize mental health.

It requires legislators to examine public Medicaid funding and mental health funding flows and ensure they are being used effectively.

It requires hiring more trained professionals to meet growing needs and fill gaps in current services.

September is Suicide Prevention Month. Utah has lost too many of its youths to this tragedy already. Another heartbreaking loss need not happen before the tide begins to turn. We urge Utahns to use available resources to learn more about the mental health issues plaguing the state, especially its adolescents, and what they can do to be a part of the solution.

Resources for starting to do so are available. The Deseret News reported on the rampage of anxiety affecting teens and provided a toolkit on how to address it. Hope4Utah provides a list of mental health agencies in every Utah county. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is available 24 hours a day and can be reached via phone call or text. The National Alliance for Mental Illness has a center in Utah and provides information on its website.

Utah is not alone in fighting this crisis, but the nation’s eyes are watching it in particular. What will the state that ranked last on adult mental health measures do? Turning its weaknesses in to successes could provide invaluable data and a roadmap for other parts of the country struggling to improve mental health outcomes.

The study outlines a series of “first measures” and “future measures” that should be taken to combat the crisis. They include continued expansion of resources and crisis centers, promoting knowledge on mental health, extending grants to mental health centers and increasing funding for school-based mental health providers. We urge legislators and residents to take these seriously and not delay solutions.

Utah has a history of coming together in times of need to find solutions and has an opportunity to become a model for the nation on mental health measures. The numbers are clear: This is one of those times.