Utah AG Reyes reflects on suicide rates of teens, veterans: ‘Find ways to connect and to serve them’

Composite image | Background vector image by John Takai / Hemera / Getty Images Plus; St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY — Sunday marked the observance of World Suicide Prevention Day, and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes released a statement on the issue he called a “global health threat,” especially as it concerns Utah adolescents and veterans.

In addition to citing a CDC study that showed a steady increase in suicide rates among both men and women from 1999 to 2014, Reyes also brought up the fact that suicide is the leading cause of death in Utah children ages 10-17.

“Far too many of our youth feel there is no hope and life is not worth living,” Reyes said, adding:

As we have traveled the state over the last several years, visiting with teens in groups or individually, so many of them have expressed feelings of being alone, judged, or without hope. While adolescence is or was a difficult transition time for nearly all of us, the isolation of today’s youth seems more prevalent and more deeply felt. Other factors like depression, being victims of bullying and abuse, eating disorders, drug use and addictions of various kinds, as well as other behavioral health and safety challenges can increase the risk of suicide among teens.

Reyes mentioned the new SafeUT app, which has been introduced in schools throughout Utah.

“Those teens in crisis can now access live trained professionals at any time the way they are used to communicating: through a free app on their smart phones available across Android, Apple or other platforms,” he said. “With the SafeUT app our kids are never alone.”

According to the statement from Reyes’ office, the SafeUT program and app help youth stay healthy and safe in schools by providing high-quality, confidential counseling services. The app’s key features include:

  • Anonymous, confidential, and password protected services
  • Real-time, two-way communication with SafeUT crisis counselors available 24/7
  • Tips can be submitted with picture and/or video
  • Mobile app works with Apple & Android devices

SafeUT answers crisis calls, texts and chats – about yourself or someone else – 24/7. These services are anonymous and confidential. Our counseling topics include:

  • Suicide
  • Self-harm
  • Emotional crisis
  • Grief and loss
  • Drug and alcohol problems
  • Mental health
  • Abuse
  • Impact of domestic violence


In addition to adolescents, Reyes also discussed the high rate of suicide among veterans.

“Daily, those losses number twenty or more,” he said. “Utah has lost its fair share of Veterans who were willing to give their lives for their country and instead lost them battling personal demons and enemies seen and unseen that were often related to their service.”

At the end of his statement, Reyes challenged Utahns to work toward solving the problem. He said:

We can all play a part in reversing Utah’s devastating trend of teen and Veteran suicide by having real conversations with friends, family, and neighbors. These may be difficult and uncomfortable discussions but the alternative – not communicating – rarely if ever leads to positive outcomes. I challenge all Utahns to engage daily in a positive way with teens and Veterans. Say hello. Recognize them. Smile. Be a mentor or friend. Find ways to connect and to serve them. While this is not a panacea or cure-all, it can go a long way to lifting someone out of darkness and despair. Truly, one of act of kindness can be the difference between life and death.

The full statement from Attorney General Reyes, as prepared for delivery, is below.

I appreciate the efforts of the International Association of Suicide Prevention (IASP) and all of its partners to educate the world on what is a global health threat. I join many other voices worldwide in support of raising awareness and resources to prevent a growing number of suicides. In the U.S., suicide is the tenth leading cause of death and a recent CDC study showed an increased suicide rate every year from 1999 to 2014 among both women and men and in every age group except those 75 and older. The rates of suicide for teens and Military Veterans are particularly alarming. Sadly, Utah is no exception.

For the last three and a half years, the Office of the Utah Attorney General has led an effort to respond to increased teen suicide, the leading cause of death of Utah children, ages 10-17. We have teamed with legislators, state agencies, mental health clinicians, suicide prevention advocates, the faith community, educators, law enforcement, parents, and teens themselves to address the tragic reality that far too many of our youth feel there is no hope and life is not worth living.

As we have traveled the state over the last several years, visiting with teens in groups or individually, so many of them have expressed feelings of being alone, judged, or without hope. While adolescence is or was a difficult transition time for nearly all of us, the isolation of today’s youth seems more prevalent and more deeply felt. Other factors like depression, being victims of bullying and abuse, eating disorders, drug use and addictions of various kinds, as well as other behavioral health and safety challenges can increase the risk of suicide among teens.

Because Utah has one of the highest rates of teen suicide in the nation, my office has been leading the School Safety and Crisis Line Commission which last year unveiled the new SafeUT app. It is currently introduced in schools throughout Utah. Those teens in crisis can now access live trained professionals at any time the way they are used to communicating: through a free app on their smart phones available across Android, Apple or other platforms. With the SafeUT app our kids are never alone.

We have also worked closely with legislators to create a three digit number similar to 911 in Utah for immediate response to mental health and behavioral crises, including thoughts of or attempts at suicide. This statewide effort has led to discussions and proposed legislation at a national level for a similar 911-type number.

Like teens, the number of Military Veterans losing their lives from suicide across our nation is staggering. Daily, those losses number twenty or more. Utah has lost its fair share of Veterans who were willing to give their lives for their country and instead lost them battling personal demons and enemies seen and unseen that were often related to their service.

We can all play a part in reversing Utah’s devastating trend of teen and Veteran suicide by having real conversations with friends, family, and neighbors. These may be difficult and uncomfortable discussions but the alternative–not communicating–rarely if ever leads to positive outcomes. I challenge all Utahns to engage daily in a positive way with teens and Veterans. Say hello. Recognize them. Smile. Be a mentor or friend. Find ways to connect and to serve them. While this is not a panacea or cure-all, it can go a long way to lifting someone out of darkness and despair. Truly, one of act of kindness can be the difference between life and death.

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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2 Comments

  • commonsense September 12, 2017 at 8:17 pm

    The repressive religious culture has to take some responsibility for the high suicide rate in the intermountain west. Guilt and repression are part of religion and, in the case of Mormons, no acceptable venue for release. Add to this, the need to appear perfect and you have a disastrous social milieu.

    Bullying is ubiquitous and can make kids stronger with a good support system. Help lines are good but talking to strangers is slightly better than nothing. There is no good answer unless you teach children that they are acceptable regardless of thoughts or behavior. Parents and teachers need to promote resilience and not encourage the victim role. Empower our children by allowing self reliance and consequences and encourage exploration of ideas and differences.

  • jaltair September 13, 2017 at 7:26 pm

    I just saw an interview of Dr. Jean Twenge, psychologist, instructor from San Diego State, and she is sharing information that has been compiled over the years that speak to the iGen (generation). This is so important to read and share with anyone who is working with, parenting, or grandparenting teens today. I can’t emphasize how important this information is to get out to help change what is happening.

    “But according to a recent story in The Atlantic magazine, an increasing body of evidence shows that, for many teenagers, greater use of social media means a far greater sense of isolation.

    According to the piece, teenagers now spend less time in the company of their friends, they date less, have less sex, and get less sleep than earlier generations.

    And with this growing isolation comes a rise in cyber-bullying, feelings of being left out, and higher rates of depression and suicide.”

    http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/smartphones-making-generation-unhappy/

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