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Utah officials push ‘unprecedented’ campaign to reduce Latino suicide rates

Utah’s Hispanic population suffers disproportionately higher suicide, depression rates; Cox urges Latinos ‘¡Tienes el poder de salvar una vida!’

Project assistant Mati Simonds, left, and artist Roger Whiting, of Community Arts of Utah, stand near their mosaic mural on 2700 West between 3500 South and 3100 South in West Valley City on Tuesday, March 16, 2021. Earlier, Gov. Spencer Cox and West Valley Mayor Ron Bigalow held a bilingual press event at West Valley City Hall to unveil the mural, dedicated to those who have taken their own lives, and a media campaign to raise awareness of mental health and suicide prevention resources available to Utah’s Latino community.
Project assistant Mati Simonds, left, and artist Roger Whiting, of Community Arts of Utah, stand near their mosaic mural on 2700 West between 3500 South and 3100 South in West Valley City on Tuesday, March 16, 2021. Earlier, Gov. Spencer Cox and West Valley Mayor Ron Bigelow held a bilingual press event at West Valley City Hall to unveil the mural, dedicated to those who have taken their own lives, and a media campaign to raise awareness of mental health and suicide prevention resources available to Utah’s Latino community.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

WEST VALLEY CITY — Utah Gov. Spencer Cox and the mayor of Utah’s most Hispanic city joined together Tuesday to promote an “unprecedented” initiative — one specifically aimed at Utahns suffering a disproportionately higher rate of depression and suicide.

“We’ve never done a project like this,” Cox told reporters after a news conference hosted at West Valley City Hall on Tuesday. “We’ve done suicide prevention in the past, but nothing at this scale and nothing directed specifically at this sizable and growing population — fastest-growing population — in our state.”

In the bilingual news conference, Cox and West Valley City Mayor Ron Bigelow promoted the “Live On” campaign, a media campaign aiming to bring awareness of mental health and suicide prevention resources specifically for Utah’s Latino community.

The campaign seeks to raise suicide awareness with murals dedicated to those who took their own lives, which are located on 2700 West between 3500 South and 3100 South in West Valley City, and on the website, liveonutah.org, which offers suicide prevention resources and information about how to get help in both Spanish and English.

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 Tuesday, March 16, 2021. The mural, created by artist Roger Whiting, of Community Arts of Utah, and project assistant Mati Simonds, was unveiled Tuesday, along with a media campaign to raise awareness of mental health and suicide prevention resources available to Utah’s Latino community.
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 Tuesday, March 16, 2021. The mural, created by artist Roger Whiting, of Community Arts of Utah, and project assistant Mati Simonds, was unveiled Tuesday, along with a media campaign to raise awareness of mental health and suicide prevention resources available to Utah’s Latino community.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Bigelow told of a “dear friend” of his family’s whose son “felt the only choice left to him was to take his own life.”

“These are tragedies, accompanied by great sadness because they are so preventable,” Bigelow said.

The governor and the mayor both spoke in Spanish and English to highlight the campaign for not just all Utahns, but also for a segment of Utahns that especially needs the help.

Major depression in Hispanics is about twice that of all Utahns (8.2% versus 4.2%), according to a 2009 Utah Department of Health and Center for Multicultural Health report. Latino youths attempt suicide at rates higher (8.2%) than their white, non-Hispanic peers (6.1%), and suicide attempts for Hispanic girls were 50% higher than for white girls in the same age group in 2015, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. As seen nationwide, the suicide death rate for Hispanic men is more than three times the rate for Hispanic women, according to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center.

“¡Tienes el poder de salvar una vida!” Cox dijo en español. “Si crees que alguien podría estar pensando en suicidarse, pregúntale. Preguntar no los hace más propensos a intentar suicidarse, por el contrario, puede salvarles la vida.”

Translation:You have the power to save a life!” Cox said. “If you believe someone is thinking about suicide, ask them. Asking does not cause more likelihood of committing suicide. Conversely, asking can save a life.”

Bigelow said suicide is the primary cause of avoidable death in Utah, regardless of age, income or race.

“El propósito de este programa es establecer la salud mental y la prevención del suicidio, con una prioridad para todos los que viven en Utah,” Bigelow dijo en español. “Sabemos dar esperanza y conexión social afecta no solo a las personas que se encuentran en esta situación, sino a sus familias y amigos.”

Translation: “The purpose of this program is to establish mental health and the prevention of suicide, with a priority for everyone that lives in Utah. We know giving hope and social connection affects not just the people who are in this situation, but their families and friends.”

Javier Alegre, executive director of the nonprofit Latino Behavioral Health Services in Utah, which is aimed at reducing disparities in access to mental health services among Utah’s underserved Latino population, thanked Cox and Bigelow for sharing their messages in Spanish.

“I’m a little touched here,” an emotional Alegre said. “It’s not often I participate in a press conference where my language is spoken, so thank you for that. I appreciate that. When we see individuals on television who are making an effort to communicate with my community in the way we speak ... it’s tremendous. It makes a difference.”

Alegre called the added focus of the “Live On” campaign “unprecedented” and one that’s new to not only Utah but “to the nation,” and is very needed. He also pointed to higher suicide rates among Utah’s Hispanic population.

“It is troublesome and it is dangerous,” Alegre said. “Particularly now, during COVID, which has enhanced levels of depression and anxiety, not only for the Latino community, but for all of us, for the entire community across the world.”

He went on to explain in Spanish how Utahns can access resources online from both Latino Behavioral Health Services and the Live On website.

Utah currently ranks sixth highest in the nation for suicide. Though the state’s rates have been declining over the past few years, “they’re still way too high,” Cox said.

“We’ve got to change the culture around this with every population, and we just need to do better.”

The Hispanic community is Utah’s largest minority community in the state, “and their suicide rates are above the state average,” Cox said, “so it’s critical that we focus there to help change the culture around suicide prevention, around being able to talk about it, being open about it, and really help to lower those rates.”

Cox has for years been an outspoken advocate for suicide prevention. Before he was elected as Utah’s governor last year, and during his time as lieutenant governor, Cox talked publicly about his brushes with suicide ideation as a teen. Cox, who served a mission in Mexico for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in his early 20s, said he also has a “love for the Latino community,” and that’s why he chose to personally participate in the West Valley news conference.

“This was just the perfect opportunity to shine a spotlight on what, unfortunately, is a terrible problem in our state,” the governor said.

Cox said it’s a “good question,” why suicide rates are higher among Utah’s Hispanic community, but he noted that suicide rates are generally higher among men, perhaps because men don’t generally discuss mental health.

“There tends to be kind of a ‘machismo,’” Cox said, a term in Spanish meaning strong masculine pride, “that these aren’t things you can talk about, that if you talk about it, it means you’re weak. And that’s what we’re really trying to change.”

Cox added having conversations about mental health “isn’t weakness. In fact, it’s a strength.”

“It’s funny, a guy breaks his arm and he goes around and brags about it,” Cox said. “But when something breaks in our head we’re afraid to talk about it, and that’s a problem in every culture, but a little bit more with our Latino population.”

Asked why there’s never been a campaign before “Live On” targeted at Utah’s Latino community, Cox said he didn’t know, but he noted the Utah Legislature and other state officials have been ramping up suicide prevention efforts in recent years, and now they have the resources for a more targeted approach.

“Les invito y les hago el desafio a todos los miembros de la comunidad latina para que ayuden a cambiar las normas sociales relacionadas con la salud mental y el suicidio,” Cox dijo en español. “Ayúdanos a marcar la diferencia y salvar las vidas de nuestros amigos y familiares.

Translation: “I invite you and I challenge you, all of the members of the Latino community, so that we can change the social norms relating to mental health and suicide,” Cox said. “Help us to make a difference and save the lives of our friends and family members.”

In addition to the Live On website, Utahns struggling with suicidal thoughts can get help from the Utah Department of Health at utahsuicideprevention.org/suicide-prevention-basics. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. Help is also available through the SafeUT app.

Contributing: McKenzie Romero