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Community gets together on suicide prevention effort

Greg Cowan raises a question during Tuesday's presentation in Helper.

By C.J. MCMANUS
Sun Advocate reporter

Following a winter which saw an alarming amount of suicide and tragedy in Carbon County, community leaders came together Tuesday night in Helper to hear from a Utah suicide expert and discuss what can be done to prevent future deaths while helping local residents to heal.

"The event was well attended and extremely educational," said organizer and Licensed Professional Counselor Karl Kraync. "Dr. Hudnall's presentation was well informed and directly on point. As a community our challenge is to take the information he presented and move forward."

According to Kraync, Dr. Gregory A. Hudnall's demonstration was steeped in the wisdom of a man who has dealt with suicide on a personal basis. While the curriculum he developed focuses on youth issues, Kraync explained that many of the precursors and triggers associated with suicide span a wide range of ages and are pertinent to almost anybody. His initial statistics showed just how serious the threat of suicide is all across Utah.

Hudnall reported that in comparison to other states, Utah ranks consistently within the top ten for youth suicide with 72 percent of those affected enrolled in school at the time of their death.

"Not all adolescent attempters may admit their intent," he said. "Therefore, any deliberate self-harming behaviors should be considered serious and in need of further evaluation."

The open community presentation, which was organized at the request of former Helper City Mayor Dean Armstrong, was also a success in terms of attendance by those who looking to use the agencies our community offers.

Available services on display at the Helper Auditorium included information from Four Corners Community Behavioral Health, the Business Expansion and Retention Program, Carbon County Economic Development, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Intermountain Specialized Assessment and Treatment, New Roads, Public Health, Castleview Hospital and USU Eastern.

Hudnall, who in addition to working with the Provo School District also participates in youth suicide interventions, commented that strong community support coupled with acknowledgment of the dangers associated with depression are vital when fighting suicide.

When a person is depressed, they have a very limited viewpoint. While adolescents may speak with their friends, as few as 25 percent would tell an adult, he commented.

"It is vital to notice both small and drastic changes in a young person's mood or behavior," he stressed while going over the warning signs that occur prior to a suicide attempt. "Notice increased anxiety and agitation. Don't be afraid to ask the tough questions."

In Hudnall's native Provo, one suicide per year was recorded from 1999 to 2005. To combat this, the HOPE Task Force was created and using a new curriculum based on the U.S. Surgeon General's Eleven Steps, Call to Action to Prevent Suicide, they went to work.

The task force began providing a variety of mental health services to the Provo School District's 13,000 students. Immediate success ensued. Since 2006, the Provo district has not lost a single student to suicide. The task force's complete history is available at hope4utah.com.

While Provo has a very organized platform for those dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts, Utah's young people are still falling through the cracks even when there is evidence that they are struggling.

According to Hudnall's statistics, 47 percent of Utah youth who commit suicide had a record of suspension or expulsion from school, 41 percent had contact with the Department of Children and Families and 21 percent were referred to child protective services for abuse or neglect. Despite these red flags, 80 to 90 percent of those who ended their life were not in treatment at the time of their death.

Community organizers in Carbon County will now work to wage war against the specter of suicide, hoping to expand available services to youth in the local area.

"We pulled together for this first session, the challenge will be to remain organized and see if our own suicide task force can grow legs of its own," said Kraync. "I can tell you that nothing is harder than losing a patient you were trying to help and as a community we need to do something to fight what is happening."




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