SALT LAKE CITY — While many have expressed concern that the COVID-19 pandemic is resulting in additional suicides, Utah since March has seen fewer attempted suicide attempts and ideation, officials said Tuesday.
Reports of suicide ideation are down 23.5% since Gov. Gary Herbert issued a “stay home, stay safe” directive in late March, and reported suicide attempts are down 7.5% compared to the preceding period, according to Michael Staley, suicide prevention research coordinator with the Utah Medical Examiner’s Office.
Potential reasons for the lower rates could be, in part, increased social solidarity as everyone copes with changes caused by the pandemic, Staley said. For example, those who have lost jobs likely know others who did, too, “which can soften the blow.”
Meanwhile, the state’s suicide rate hasn’t changed, with an average of seven per week, Staley said during a webinar with leaders and mental health advocates hosted by Intermountain Healthcare.
But “the situation remains really vulnerable,” he said. Officials don’t know what will happen when people stop receiving enhanced unemployment benefits through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.
The reported numbers also rely on preliminary data, he said.
“As researchers, we really have no historical event to look back on that would tell us where we’re going, where this road map is taking us,” Staley said.
Staley and other advocates said a focus on mental health will be needed, particularly in schools and rural communities, as the state recovers and then faces potential future waves of the virus.
Though Utah has long faced roadblocks in its fight against suicide, including a shortage of mental health resources, work over the past few years has led the state’s suicide numbers to recently start plateauing, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said.
“Now is the time to protect these gains. If we plan and we act now, we can mitigate some of the worst mental health projections and build on these past successes,” Cox said.
The state last week announced the “Live On” campaign to prevent suicide by promoting education, providing resources and changing the social norms around suicide and mental health, Cox noted. Details can be found at liveonutah.org.
Dr. Brooks Keeshin, clinician researcher in the University of Utah Division of Child Protection and Family Health, said hospitals and public health systems across the state are working to share population health data and mental health trends they’re seeing to gain a better understanding of the pandemic’s toll.
While some children he works with have done well, others with behavioral issues have faced exacerbated challenges during the pandemic.
The best way to help kids during this time is to simply ask them how they feel, “really kind of giving them that safe environment so they can teach us how they’re feeling,” Keeshin said.
When school is back in session, not only will health screenings become a regular part of a student’s life, school-based mental health services will also “become more important than ever,” said Taryn Aiken Hiatt, area director for the Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
She urged residents to do their part in reducing the stigma associated with mental illness, and to reach out for help when they need it.
The Utah Department of Health offers suicide prevention help at utahsuicideprevention.org/suicide-prevention-basics. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. Help is also available through the SafeUT app.
New COVID-19 deaths, cases
Utah’s deaths related to the novel coronavirus rose by three on Tuesday, bringing the toll to 101.
The latest fatalities include two Salt Lake County men and a San Juan County woman. All three were described only as between the ages of 60 and 85, and they were each hospitalized when they died, according to the Utah Department of Health.
After the holiday weekend, Utah saw a smaller rise in cases and testing numbers Tuesday, with 99 more cases confirmed out of 2,124 tests, a nearly 4.7% positive rate.
Overall, 8,620 people have tested positive for the disease since the pandemic began out of 198,592 tests given, according to officials, a 4.3% positive rate. More than 5,300 people are considered recovered after passing the three-week point since their diagnoses.
A smaller number of new hospitalizations compared to the past several days was reported Tuesday, at just four. In Utah, 98 people are currently hospitalized with the disease.
The latest breakdown of Utah cases, hospitalizations and deaths by health district:
- Salt Lake County, 4,632; 415 hospitalized; 69 deaths.
- Utah County, 1,744; 96 hospitalized; 14 deaths.
- Davis County, 419; 37 hospitalized; 2 deaths.
- Summit County, 405; 37 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
- Southwest Utah, 330; 22 hospitalized; 4 deaths.
- Weber-Morgan, 272; 29 hospitalized; 4 deaths.
- San Juan County, 272; 27 hospitalized; 5 deaths.
- Wasatch County, 253; 11 hospitalized; 1 death.
- Tooele County, 114; 6 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
- Bear River, 105; 13 hospitalized; 2 deaths.
- Central Utah, 33; 2 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
- TriCounty (Uinta Basin), 20; 1 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
- Southeast Utah, 21; 0 hospitalized; 0 deaths.