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Opinion: Here’s how I’m trying to help prevent suicide

The meetings I take with families of suicide victims are among the most emotionally wrenching experiences of my Congressional career.

A mosaic panel is part of a mural dedicated to those who have committed suicide.
A mosaic panel, part of a mural dedicated to those who have taken their own lives, is pictured on 2700 West between 3500 South and 3100 South in West Valley City on March 16, 2021. In the aftermath of a tragic death, parents and loved ones often seek to mobilize prevention efforts in the hopes of keeping other families from experiencing the same trauma. In the case of suicide prevention, those efforts are producing results on a national scale.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

In the aftermath of a tragic death, parents and loved ones often seek to mobilize prevention efforts in the hopes of keeping other families from experiencing the same trauma. In the case of suicide prevention, those efforts are producing results on a national scale.

Through a series of bills introduced and passed by me and other lawmakers in the last four years, we’ve seen an influx of federal resources to support mental health. More help is on the way.

The meetings I take with families of those who died by suicide are among the most emotionally wrenching experiences of my congressional career. Suicide is a top 10 cause of death in Utah and across America. So many families are living with the devastating consequences of such tragedies.

But suicide is preventable. During this National Suicide Prevention month, I’m proud of the bipartisan work that has been done and the impact it will have on Utah students, veterans and others in need of help.

Some of those efforts began in Utah, with the establishment of the 988 number to connect to immediate crisis care. With the help of families who shared their stories, lobbied their representatives and partnered with nonprofit organizations to seek solutions, we now have new resources, better funding and better coordination of mental health assistance.

What began in Utah became a national success story after President Donald Trump signed my legislation designating 988 as the official nationwide number to access the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Soon, instead of dialing a 10-digit number, people in crisis will be able to access mental health professionals quickly and easily in their time of need, no matter which state they live in.

In addition to the hotline, I’ve been pleased to work with families on other elements of the solution. Right now, I am working with Illinois Democrat Marie Newman to expand federal funding for mental health services.

Our bipartisan bill creates a grant program to assist state efforts to establish and maintain a student mental health and safety helpline that coordinates with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. When it becomes law, this bill will give students direct access to mental health resources.

Also in the legislative pipeline is the Suicide Prevention Act, which I’m co-sponsoring with California Democrat Doris Matsui. Having already passed in the House, this bill funds data collection to expedite information sharing between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state and local health departments. In this way, health departments can recognize trends and intervene more quickly.

The bill, which awaits a vote in the Senate, also provides funding to improve mental health response in emergency rooms. Data shows that approximately 37% of those without a previously documented mental health or substance abuse problem who die by suicide made a visit to an emergency room in the year before their death. Federal funding for additional training and screening of at-risk patients could save many lives.

I am grateful for the outstanding efforts of so many families who have used their pain as a catalyst to bring needed changes to our mental health delivery system. Without their willingness to share their own pain and suffering to promote change, these efforts would never have come to pass. Every day, and especially this month, we all need to recognize those efforts and make some of our own.

Rep. Chris Stewart represents Utah’s 2nd Congressional District.