SALT LAKE CITY — Seeing a need for a more comprehensive approach to battling suicide in Utah, Intermountain Healthcare is giving $1.2 million to the Live On campaign and its efforts to change important conversations that could lead Utahns to get help earlier.
The money — which more than doubles the private dollars donated to the campaign so far — will help Live On’s efforts to change social norms regarding mental health and suicide in Utah over the next three years. It will also fund nine mini-grants for various organizations to promote mental health and suicide prevention.
“Really the thought process is that we need to be comprehensive in our look at things,” Doug Thomas, director of the Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, said during a news conference Wednesday. “And some campaigns just focus on kind of one main message, and this campaign is getting out multiple messages about helping people connect, helping people get support when they need it, and changing social norms so that people recognize when they start to have problems and reach out earlier.”
The Live On campaign began in May — mental health awareness month — and was driven by the high rate of suicides in Utah. The COVID-19 pandemic has only served to heighten mental health problems worldwide, as people are limited in what they can do and who they can see.
Live On is a self-described “public-private partnership of community members, suicide survivors, service providers, state and local government officials, researchers and others dedicated to saving lives and advancing suicide prevention efforts in Utah.”
The group has $3 million to $5 million pledged to it from private donors and the state Legislature, according to Thomas. Intermountain Healthcare’s additional $1.2 million will help expand the program.
“This will allow us to do the campaign longer and put more resources into it, have additional mini-grants for special populations and communities and then also do a really thorough job with evaluation,” Thomas said.
The importance of making data-driven adjustments and decisions was a primary talking point among speakers at the news conference, and the campaign has partnered with the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute for help evaluating progress.
“As a health system, we know that everything we do to improve health has to be based in science and data,” said Mikelle Moore, a senior vice president and chief community health officer at Intermountain Healthcare. “And that’s why we are thrilled to have the Gardner Policy Institute as one of the partners in the Live On campaign. They will be evaluating the campaign not just in retrospect as an academic exercise but during the process so that we can adjust the Live On campaign to meet its goals.”
In the past five years, Utah has lost around 3,200 residents to suicide, according to Moore, who called the statistic “shocking.”
“These 3,200 people are not just a number — we know that,” she said. “They’re individuals with stories, they’re our neighbors, they’re our friends, they’re our work colleagues. Suicide affects each of us.”
Live On hopes to reduce the suicide rate in Utah by 10%, with the ultimate goal of eliminating Utah suicides altogether.
Often, suicide and underlying mental health conditions disproportionately affects minority groups, according to Javier Alegre, executive director of Latino Behavioral Health Services.
The American Indian and Alaska Native population is an example of this. In 2018, the demographic had an estimated 22.1 per 100,000 suicide rate in the U.S., compared with the overall U.S. suicide rate of 14.2 per 100,000, according to Suicide Prevention Resource Center.
Yet ethnic minorities are “grossly underserved” in terms of being offered mental health and suicide prevention resources, Alegre said. He has hopes that will change in the future, and Live On has prioritized funding for minority demographics and groups that are disproportionately affected by suicide.
Latino Behavioral Health Services will be one of the organizations that receives a mini-grant from Live On.
“We really felt like at the state level, we were too far removed from the communities to be able to do that, so we needed to get these mini-grants out to the people that are the influencers and the changers inside their communities to change the culture there,” Thomas said.
Alegre expressed gratitude for the new campaign and what’s being done for underserved demographics.
“It makes us feel like we are being considered and that we are being invited to the table to be a part of the solution as well,” he said.
Bear River Mental Health, Weber Human Services, Summit County, Northeastern Counseling Center, San Juan Counseling and Watch — a mental health service in Provo — and will be additional recipients of the mini-grants, according to Thomas.
Two other organizations are working with Live On to gain funding as well, Thomas said.
“These mini-grants will make a difference with many organizations across the state, to help us reach populations we have struggled to reach in the past and who sometimes don’t spend the time that is needed focusing on mental health care and suicide prevention,” Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said at the press conference.
Thomas also noted that the Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health has partnered with developers of an app called myStrength to allow Utahns access to additional resources, which are private and confidential. The password to access the app is UtahDHS.