*Originally published in City Journals
One year ago, I publicly shared the story of one of my sons having suicidal thoughts, and our efforts to get him help. Late one night last summer, my son came to me and told me “I want to die.” No mother wants to hear those words from her child.
My heart ached as I tried to figure out what to do. He was in a dire situation and I was racking my brain on where to turn. As an elected official on the Salt Lake County Council, I couldn’t believe I didn’t know who to call.
September was Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and over the past year I’ve learned a lot about this problem, as well as some of the ongoing efforts to fix it. I learned that suicide is the number one killer of teens in Utah. I learned (firsthand) the panic and fear that far too many parents feel when they desperately search for resources. And I learned we need a better way to connect these parents and individuals with crisis intervention resources to avert a tragedy.
I’ve been fortunate to be able to serve on the state crisis line commission and work with Lt Governor Cox, state legislators, and mental health professionals to improve resources to those in crisis. We have been meeting for the past several months surveying the level of resources throughout Utah available to individuals and families experiencing a mental health crisis.
The commission has finished the first phase, and will present the findings to the state legislature.
There are more than 20 different crisis lines throughout the state, with varying hours of access and level of resource. Because of this, we are recommending a public messaging campaign promoting the national crisis phone number: 1-800-273-TALK. We want to ensure this number funnels to the local resources based on where someone is calling from. We are hopeful that federal legislation by Senator Hatch and Congressman Stewart will create a nationwide three-digit crisis line in the future.
Areas of the state where local crisis lines aren’t operational 24/7, we’ll seek additional funding to bring them up to speed. We want to make sure that every caller in the midst of crisis is connected with a live person on the other end—not a recording. We also want to ensure that the people responding to calls are well-trained and sufficiently prepared to potentially save lives.
Currently, Salt Lake County is serviced by a highly-skilled and dedicated team of professionals at the University of Utah Neuropsychiatric Institute, better known as “UNI.” The people who take calls at UNI are consummate professionals. Not only can they help someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts, they can also be a resource to anyone who is struggling but not quite at crisis level yet. I had the opportunity to tour the UNI facility and I was impressed by their operation. My hope is that this level of quality resource can become available to anyone in crisis, anywhere in Utah. Parents and kids can also access the SAFEUT app, which will connect them to UNI. Please download this app, if you haven’t already.
Lastly, we want to expand the reach of Mobile Crisis Outreach Teams, or MCOT. Think of it like an ambulance just for mental health emergencies. If someone has a mental health crisis, these teams can be dispatched to a home, school, or wherever needed. Their experts can work with the person experiencing the crisis and help them find a resolution that doesn’t involve self-harm. We’ve already seen these teams in action in Salt Lake County saving lives, and I’m hopeful we will see this resource in other counties throughout the state.
There is still a lot of work to do, and we’re just in the first phases. But I’ve never been more optimistic about Utah’s ability to solve our suicide crisis. For every teenager whose thoughts turn to suicide, and every mother whose heart breaks for her child—I’m committed to seeing this through. I know what it's like to feel that panic and fear. We’re making progress. I’m excited for the continued cooperation between community leaders and experts, and various levels of government, to bring to bear sufficient resources to do so. Our children’s lives depend on it.
Aimee Winder Newton has been serving on the Salt Lake County Council since January 2014. She is the current chair of the council. Her district encompasses Murray, Taylorsville, West Valley City and West Jordan, and a small portion of South Salt Lake and Millcreek... [read more]
|Aimee Winder Newton||
aimee winder newton: County Council district 3