Southwestern Utah’s high suicide rates; prevention: What do you say to a loved one?

ST. GEORGE – Southwestern Utah has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation, and the Southwest Behavioral Health Center is working to change that.

“We fit into what is called the ‘suicide belt’ in the United States, which is the Western states running from Montana and Idaho on the north, to Mexico and Arizona on the south,” Southwest Behavioral Health Center Clinical Director Michael Cain told the Washington County Commission Tuesday.

Infographic courtesy Utah Department of Health | St. George News
Infographic courtesy Utah Department of Health | St. George News | Click image to enlarge

Utah’s suicide rate consistently ranks in the top 10 in the nation, Cain said, and Utah ranks highest in the nation for prevalence of suicidal thoughts, at 6.8 percent, almost twice the national average.

The reasons for Utah’s high rankings remain unclear.

Within Utah itself, the southwest has one of the highest suicide rates, which means, Cain said, southwest Utah is one of the higher areas in the country, near the top, in terms of suicide rate.

“So we are very concerned about that and are very interested in making a change.”

The majority of people who die by suicide are not in treatment, which means, Cain said, the challenge locally is reaching out and finding those people who are considering suicide.

What is being done

One way the center is addressing this urgent need is by partnering with REACH4HOPE to offer the QPR training program: Question, persuade and refer.

The QPR program teaches people what to look for, what questions to ask and how to persuade people to get help.

The goal is to reach and train 50,000 people in Southern Utah’s five-county area within a decade, Cain said. Anyone can take the free two-hour class, but organizers are particularly interested in training those who have contact with many people.

Infographic courtesy Utah Department of Health | St. George News
Infographic courtesy Utah Department of Health | St. George News | Click image to enlarge

“We’re looking for church leaders, we’re looking for Scout leaders, we’re looking at the schools … ,” Cain said.

The Washington County School District has almost all of its counselors trained as instructors in the QPR program, and the counselors will be able to train every member of the school district staff, he said.

The County Commission expressed support for the program at Tuesday’s meeting. During one specified period, Commissioner Victor Iverson said, 256 people in Utah died on the highways compared to 450-500 who died by suicide.

“When I think about all the effort we go through, to making our roads more safe … I think we can do better as a community,” Iverson said, “and Washington County’s ready to put a few of our employees through it.”

By Friday, the county had arranged for two employees to be trained as instructors in the QPR program.

“We will offer that and try to get all of our employees trained in QPR so they can recognize the signs of suicide and hopefully make a positive difference,” Iverson said Friday.

Iverson represents Washington County on the board of the Five County Association of Governments, which oversees the Southwest Behavioral Health Center.

The Southwest Center serves Washington, Iron, Beaver, Kane and Garfield counties and offers services to Medicaid recipients and others who don’t have the resources to get the care they need.

The Center also offers services not available through traditional medical care, such as case management, transportation, employment services, respite care, mobile crisis outreach team and more.

Cain said the Center is involved in drug courts in four counties and also Washington County’s mental health court.

What to look for

Some of the signs that someone is suicidal include talking about wanting to kill themselves; looking for ways to kill themselves; talking about a specific plan; feeling hopeless, trapped or desperate; feeling like a burden to others; and feeling humiliated.

Other signs include having intense anxiety or panic attacks, losing interest in things, losing the ability to experience pleasure, having insomnia, becoming socially isolated, acting irritable or agitated and showing rage or talking about seeking revenge for being victimized or rejected, whether or not the situations described seem real.

How to help

There are three steps to helping someone you think may be suicidal:

Step 1 – Ask a question

The first step to preventing suicide is to question. Get the person alone or in a private setting and ask them if they are contemplating suicide. Ask questions that acknowledge the person’s distress.

Step 2 – Persuade them to get help

The second step is to persuade the individual to get help. The goal of persuasion is to get the person to say “yes,” that he or she will get help.

Step 3 – Make a referral

The best referrals are when you personally take the person you are worried about to a provider or appropriate professional. If you are making a referral, don’t worry about being disloyal. You are trying to save a life. Don’t worry about breaking a trust or not having enough information to call for help.

Learn suicide prevention

To take the QPR class for suicide prevention as an individual or to arrange classes for your organization, contact:


  • Southwest Behavioral Health 24-hour emergency phone 435-634-5600
  • Southwest Behavioral Health 24-hour emergency toll-free phone 1-800-574-6763
  • National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • REACH4HOPE website
  • Southwest Behavioral Health Center website
  • American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness Southwest Utah Chapter website

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Twitter: @STGnews

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  • fun bag May 8, 2015 at 8:54 pm

    “We fit into what is called the ‘suicide belt’ in the United States, which is the Western states running from Montana and Idaho on the north, to Mexico and Arizona on the south”

    sounds to me like the “suicide belt” and the mormon belt of the usa are one in the same. what does this tell us?

    • AnotherReader May 8, 2015 at 9:59 pm

      Nope, the statistics don’t support your supposition. Sorry to burst your bubble.

      • Brian May 9, 2015 at 7:41 am

        Feel free to back up your claim with actual statistics, including the source. Utah IS one of the highest states in the nation (5th highest: I think there is a correlation between the high suicide rates and the LDS belief system, and it’s this: we (I’m active LDS) set our sights very, very high. It’s hard to set a goal higher than exaltation (perfection). Because of that, when a member of our Church “messes up” (drugs, alcohol, affair, premarital sex, porn addiction, etc, etc), which is a very human / mortal thing to do, it weighs on us VERY heavily. Ol’ scratch likes to whisper in our ear “you’ve done it now, you’ve messed up forever, ruined everything. you’re going to hell now”, which causes depression and going further down that road (downward spiral), leads some to leave the Church, and in extreme cases, suicide. This is an unfortunate but very real dynamic. It’s probably an unavoidable price of setting our sights high (but not reason not to). Awareness helps, but there isn’t a magic solution. Each individual that struggles with this really has to find their own way through it, relying on God and grit, in that order.

        • fun bag May 9, 2015 at 10:10 am

          Brian is mostly right, here. The hypocrisy of Southern utah mormons is astounding, not to mention the lying and sleaziness and huge lack of integrity, and the huge pressure of showing off achievements, and showboating money, and keeping up with the jones’s. Try living your religion 7 days a week and not just sundays… might make the world just a little better huh?

          • 42214 May 9, 2015 at 10:38 am

            Become a doctor and take the Hippocratic oath. Become “deeply” religious and take the hypocritic oath. Fun Bag nailed it.

        • AnotherReader May 9, 2015 at 5:28 pm

          Higher Utah suicide rates are not due to stresses within the church
          Source: Daily Universe / BYU NewsNet

          Utah is the land of Jell-O and funeral potatoes, but it also has a more somber quirk.

          The Beehive State is included in the region with the highest suicide rate in the nation.

          The U.S. Census Bureau reports suicide accounts for 14.3 percent of violent deaths in Utah, compared to 9.4 percent in the United States.

          Suicide was the No. 1 cause of death in Utah for 25- to 44-year-old men, and the second-leading cause of death among men aged 15 to 24. The state has been above the national average for suicides several decades in a row.

          Sterling C. Hilton, assistant professor in the statistics department, said the natural tendency is to assume that since Utah has a predominantly Latter-day Saint population, the church must contribute to the level of depression and suicides in Utah.

          But he and other BYU statisticians recently conducted a study that concluded just the opposite is true.

          “No evidence suggests that church demands and pressures on its members account for the high suicide rate in Utah,” Hilton said.

          The study, published in the March 1 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology, targeted Utah men between the ages of 15 and 34, and cross-referenced their activity in the Church of Jesus Christ.

          Active members were found to be seven times less likely to commit suicide than their less-active peers, according to the study.

          “Many factors of religiosity relate to lowered suicide rates,” Hilton said. “Latter-day Saints believe in a higher being, an afterlife, and the sanctity of life. They believe life, in and of itself, is precious. The church also has an elaborate social support system.”

          Hilton said activity in any religion decreased the risk of suicide. But adherence to the Latter-day Saint faith in particular lowered the chances of suicide because the church prohibits alcohol use outright, whereas most religions only discourage abuse.

          Alcohol abuse is directly linked to suicidal tendencies, he said.”

          • homer498 May 13, 2015 at 9:27 am

            I usually read the “Comments” for laughs, but you are going overboard with the funnies today. Quoting research done by BYU that supports the church. This isn’t really a subject to be joking about, but you do demonstrate the appropriate arrogance of the church and its faithful. Thank God organized religion will be a thing of the past in a few more generations.

          • homer498 May 13, 2015 at 10:14 am

            I should have prefaced my comment “From one member to another.”

      • Chris May 9, 2015 at 12:37 pm

        The statistics most certainly do support his supposition. Brian nailed it above. Suicide and depression are inordinately high among LDS faithful. Hence, not only is suicide common, but use of anti-depressants is among the highest in the country. Perhaps most disturbing of all, suicide rates among teenagers in Utah is one of the highest. Watch the obituaries. If a teen dies and no cause is cited, it was most likely a suicide. It happens here in SW Utah at a shocking rate. Anotherreader, you are the one living in a bubble.

    • homer498 May 13, 2015 at 10:47 am

      To be fair, although I completely the LDS religion is a player in this; the Navaho reservation is in the same “belt” and suffers from the single highest rate of suicide among American Indian tribes. Personally, after having spent 30 years in the SG/CC area, I believe the weather & terrain is as much a problem as anything. You see the area advertised as an outdoor year round playground, but the people who live in the area live inside because it’s always windy, too hot, or too cold. And when you look around everything is “DEAD”. Nothing grows naturally. You actually have two extreme seasons each lasting five months, with literally ten nice days separating them. The weather did it for me.

  • beentheredonethat May 9, 2015 at 10:31 am

    Don’t dismiss the medical ” professionals”. Prescribing pills for everything. Anti depressants anxiety sleep and pain. BYU grads. “PILL EM AND BILL EM”

  • Ahab May 9, 2015 at 3:37 pm

    I find these comments to be very alarming. What experience do you all have to make such claims about life threatening medical issues? This is a serious topic, and your own personal issues with a religion should not be shared in such a carefree and anonymous way. People suffering are probably going to read this article hoping to get help and your comments of negativity and personal selfishness could further isolate them and push them to take their life.

    To clarify I am not Mormon. That disclaimer shouldn’t needed, but I do so in hopes that you won’t put a wall of defense in what I have to say. I have a lot of experience working with those who suffer from mental illness, depression and addiction. I have lost friends as well as a very close brother who committed suicide while in high school. I too have struggled with depression in high school and again in my 20’s and none of your claims against the Mormon religion and suicide are valid. Obviously since the population here has a high number of Mormons then the statics will reflect that. That says nothing about a religion. If that was true than every area that has a high Mormon population would reflect in studies done by unbiased doctors and professionals. Believe me, suicide is such an issue that their have been MANY studies into such claims. In fact these claims are the opposite. The number of suicides in Utah is extremely higher among non-Mormons. Nation wide those who are a part of a religious organization have lower suicide rates because of the support group that they have within their community.

    Personally I don’t think it’s just one thing that attributes to suicide. Reasons that create someone to feel alone aren’t enough, Reason that create someone to feel that they are a burden aren’t enough. Someone who feels like they are so strong in their conviction to take ones life I still don’t feel personally is enough. Who hasn’t been in one or more of these areas at one point in their life?? But when one finds them in the eye of that “perfect storm” where it all comes together is a scary and dark place to be.
    There are theories about why the “suicide belt” exists. One theory I support is the effect of higher elevations in the suicide belt. The human brain goes through metabolic changes once exposed to elevation over 2500ft. Serotonin drops, and dopamine increases. Normally for most the increase in dopamine would make one happy, euphoric but for some it can be the opposite. Those with mental illnesses it can be catastrophic! I am a firm believer suicide is caused by a disease in the brain. Those who suffer should get mental help from a professional.
    I would ask that before posting on serious matters, please educate yourself. The harm you could cause another person by making claims that I have read above could do serious damage to those who suffer. For those who are suffering, there’s nothing to be ashamed about. You’re not alone, you’re not a burden, and there are people who care about you. Support is available. Reach out, tell someone how your are feeling, or thinking. Let them know if you don’t know what to do, or that you need them to go with you, or whatever it is that is holding you back from getting the love and reassurance that you need. It might be dark now, but all you need to do is ask for some light and someone will come and help shine the way. I promise you. Keep smiling everyone!! 🙂

    • fun bag May 9, 2015 at 6:32 pm

      I think you’re full of crap with your altitude theories and your blah blah nonsense. If it’s not the mormons committing suicide maybe it’s how the mormons treat the “gentiles” that drive them to suicide or a combination of things, but we can all agree that mormonism is involved somehow, and not in a positive way.

      • Ahab May 9, 2015 at 8:53 pm

        You misunderstood. The higher elevation effecting serotonin and dopamine levels is a medical fact. What does the medical world prescribe for depression? – Medicine that helps the brain with uneven levels of serotonin and dopamine. If you already had a mental disorder, diagnosed or undiagnosed, and your brain starts to change its neurotransmitter levels due to the elevation, then it’s going to have a much bigger impact on you. This is all proven medical knowledge. The theory part is that it’s the reason for the “suicide belt”. I don’t understand the claims I hear about Mormons being such terrible people. Everywhere I’ve lived in the world I’ve found Mormons to be pretty normal and nice welcoming people. To live here among them now was a cultural difference, but nothing I wasn’t prepared for. I love it here and find the people of Utah, Mormons and Non Mormons to be one of the main reasons why people talk so much about wanting to live here. And eventually do! I’m sorry your life is so negatively effected by it. There’s obviously some deep scars there and pain that you feel is because of the Mormon church. I’m sorry that has happened to you, and I hope one day you will find your peace and the pain will no longer effect your life. Keep Smiling! 🙂

        • Chris May 10, 2015 at 10:06 am

          Not to nitpick, but I’m not inclined to believe the “medical knowledge” of someone who does not know the difference between “effecting” and “affecting.” You are not an MD, are you?

        • fun bag May 10, 2015 at 11:55 am

          “There’s obviously some deep scars there and pain that you feel is because of the Mormon church. I’m sorry that has happened to you, and I hope one day you will find your peace and the pain will no longer effect your life. Keep Smiling!”

          Wow, that is some of the most passive aggressive nonsense I think I’ve ever encountered on this site. Did you learn your skill at a special school that teaches mormon passive aggressive attacking techniques? This isn’t about me at all, this is about whether mormons are driving people to kill themselves. I don’t have anything invested in it as I’m mostly here for the entertainment factor

        • fun bag May 10, 2015 at 12:03 pm

          And you drone on and on about your “proven medical knowledge”, but in actuality you’re just a frustrated old kook with a bunch of made up facts that you’ve probably found on the internet. The truth is no one cares what you think because you have no credibility…

  • 42214 May 9, 2015 at 3:58 pm

    You forgot to mention full moons. They cause higher pressure in the brain because of tidal surges in Japan. Higher elevation? really. Bla Bla Bla

    • Ahab May 9, 2015 at 9:14 pm

      I’m just sharing my medical knowledge. It’s not something I made up. Elevation does effect the neurotransmitters in our brain. I’ve carried men off mountains who after too much exposure to extreme elevation become sick, experience paralysis, or start exhibiting signs of schizophrenia, or hallucinations. It’s because of the change in the brains neurotransmitters. The “suicide belt” is at much higher elevations, and rural so mental help isn’t as accessible. It comes down to a mental disorder, and the elevation does have an impact on those who are effected. Millions are spent on this theory because of how possible it is. You bring up a good point about the moon though. I’ll do some research, and ask some of my associates what studies have been done on the moons effect on those with mental illness. Keep Smiling! 🙂

      • fun bag May 10, 2015 at 12:04 pm

        There he goes, on and on about his “proven medical knowledge”. Just making things up as he/she goes along.

  • izzymuse May 9, 2015 at 8:31 pm

    My father killed himself 15 years ago. He was a Vietnam veteran, divorced, single father of three adult children (most of whom were estranged from him), construction worker, non-religious, and struggling with alcohol addiction. There’s not a day that goes by I don’t wonder why he ended his life. He was typically the “black sheep” of his family (a productive, big, Mormon family in Cedar City through the 1950s, etc.) – he was usually asking all the taboo questions: he taught me to question culture, government, religion, and etc. I have wondered why others commit suicide over the last 15 years. It seems that every case is so different- every person is different. Is it the American culture? (The competitive materialistic shallow culture we find ourselves in?), Mormonism?, Altitude?, The taboo of men never being encouraged to communicate their “feelings” (why are there so many more men killing themselves?), ….and on and on. I wish I knew.

    Did evolution leave humans with a consciousness too self-critical (see Freud’s theory of the id, ego, and super-ego)? All I know is that most humans are really good at seeing the bad in themselves, and this can lead to depression, drug abuse, and/or suicide. Neuroscientists have found a lot of clinical evidence showing that meditation is very effective in reducing stress, increasing contentment and happiness, and health (see Sam Harris’ books, YouTube TED-Talk presentations, and debates. He is making points worth considering for social improvements). Meditation, therapy, medicine, and support groups can help. If you know someone who even jokes about committing suicide, it’s better to err on the side of trying to help them. Better to fail trying to help than to look back and wish you “would’ve- could’ve- should’ve”. If we at least offer our best efforts there is no failing.

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