Utah first lady Abby Cox and others announced a new mental well-being campaign in rural Wasatch County middle and high schools to combat continuing high rates of suicide among youth.
“I believe that Utah is a unique state with a unique culture, and it’s up to us to come together to reduce judgment and stigma around mental health issues so those who are struggling can find help in a community of understanding and support,” Cox said Tuesday during a videoconference with students and school leaders from the rural northern Utah county.
“I’m proud of the work we’ve done and the progress we’ve made, but like all of you, I recognize that there needs to be more done,” Cox said.
The statewide LiveOn suicide prevention campaign, the Utah Department of Human Services and Wasatch County School District are together launching the campaign to “truly engage in conversation around reaching out, lifting others up and preventing suicide,” said Trudy Brereton, with Wasatch Behavioral Health.
The program will include a series of messages promoting resources available to all community members, she said.
“All of Wasatch County is proud to be working with our LiveOn campaign and the state of Utah to raise awareness to educate our students on the issues related to mental health and suicide prevention,” Brereton said.
Cox said the messages that will be shared with Wasatch County students through the campaign “can lead to vital conversations that will save lives.”
She praised students as being “such an inspiration in Wasatch County.”
“You can become a powerful voice. Your actions make a difference. You can show up for one another, and you can give one another hope, and you can make a difference. Connection is the key, and don’t forget that your teachers, parents and community are all here for you,” the first lady said.
Suicide isn’t just a health concern in Wasatch County, but throughout the state among student and nonstudent populations, Cox said.
A 2019 study by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute found that rural areas in Utah face shortages in mental health professionals, and Wasatch County is one of six counties in Utah with a severe shortage of practicing adolescent and teen psychiatrists. In 2019, suicide was the leading cause of death for Utah youth ages 10 to 17 and adults 18 to 24, according to the Utah Department of Health.
Rachael Heath, a student at Wasatch High School, encouraged her peers to talk to each other about their troubles.
“We are here today representing our schools to tell the students of Wasatch High, Rocky Mountain Middle School and Timpanogos Middle School that it’s OK to talk about our mental health. Sometimes, it takes only one conversation to make all the difference,” she said.
She urged students to become “listening ears” for each other to bring them “hope, support and love.”
Rachael recalled a recent conversation with a friend who needed support.
“I had been going through similar difficulties with stressing out about school, senior year and graduation, along with doubts about my self-worth and my future. I saw that my friend was looking a little down during one of our classes, and just through a simple question of: ‘Are you doing OK?’ was I able to give room for my friend to open up and share with me what she was going through,” she said.
Talking about their troubles helped both students, Rachael said.
Riggs Lloyd, a student at Timpanogos Middle School, urged other students to “be aware of each other” and their needs. If a student suspects one of their classmates might be considering suicide, Riggs encouraged them to ask that student. Everyone has the ability to save a life, he said.
“It is our responsibility to lift each other up, inspire positive engagement, and become a true friend for all those around us. Our coaches, counselors teachers and even fellow students can play unique roles in ensuring all of us have a successful future,” said Madison Lofgran, Rocky Mountain Middle School student.
When asked about the struggles with suicide that her husband, Gov. Spencer Cox, experienced in his youth and has shared publicly, Abby Cox said she believes it’s important for adults and role models to open up about their past struggles “because then our students can see us on the other side of it.
“They can see that we powered through, that we got the help that we need, that we connected with people that were caring and that we were able to get through that. And I think that’s a really powerful message that we need to share,” she said.
“I think in the past, maybe as youth, for us, we were kind of told: ‘Don’t talk about suicide, don’t talk about it, because then people will have that idea.’ And the research that we see now just does not bear that out,” Cox said.
Research shows “the opposite,” she said.
“When we talk about it, when we share, when we ask someone how they’re feeling and if they need help, and if they’re contemplating suicide, that actually does the opposite. It helps people, it helps people to live on,” Cox said.
The Utah Department of Health offers suicide prevention help at utahsuicideprevention.org/suicide-prevention-basics. The national crisis hotline is 1-800-784-2433. Help is also available on the SafeUT app.