Live Mic: Rep. Chris Stewart wants answers about Utah’s high suicide rate
SALT LAKE CITY — In 2017, suicide was the tenth leading cause of death overall in the United States, claiming the lives of more than 47,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Utah’s suicide rate was the fifth highest in the nation.
One Utah congressman wants to slam the brakes on this troubling crisis.
Utah Republican Rep. Chris Stewart joined Lee Lonsberry on his show, Live Mic, to talk about the lawmaker’s latest efforts to reduce suicides in Utah and nationwide.
Stewart’s Legislation addresses Suicide
Stewart said he and Democratic California Rep. Doris Matsui recently introduced the Suicide Prevention Act.
He explained the bill is an extension of his legislation that designated 9-8-8 as the new national suicide-prevention hotline number, which, he said, is not active yet. The number is about a year out from going online as it awaits FCC implementation.
Stewart said people going through a mental health crisis don’t know who to call or what number to dial.
“It’s a different number in Salt Lake than it is in St. George than it would be in New York,” he said. “This just makes it simple: 9-8-8.
“If you call 9-1-1, someone’s going to answer the phone. And they’re not going to say ‘Let me get back to you. We’ll call you tomorrow,'” Stewart said.
He stressed the same needs to be true for the suicide prevention hotline: someone has to answer the phone, be trained and be able to talk to you the moment you call.
Stewart laments Utah’s suicide rate
The lawmaker said Utah’s suicide rate is the fifth highest in the nation.
“We’re in the middle of this thing right now that we don’t really understand,” Stewart said. “That shocks people. This bill is to study it and try to understand it,” he said.
He pointed out that Utah leads the nation in job growth, has the lowest unemployment rate and the highest rate of volunteering. But he said those positive Utah traits can’t block out the concerning fact that the suicide rate for youths in the state has increased 48 percent in the last 15 years.
And it’s the leading cause of death for residents here ages 10 to 17.
Stewart’s 9-8-8 hotline status
Stewart said designating the suicide prevention number of 9-8-8 was not controversial, adding that he had about 300 bipartisan co-sponsors on the bill.
“Yet it still took us three years to move it through Congress,” he said.
He said the last phase is the funding mechanism for the hotline.
“You have to have people there to answer the phones,” he said. “We know it’s going to save lives, but you have to have people who are trained to help them.”
He wants to impose an excise tax on cellphone bills to pay for the workers and their training.
“A couple of pennies is all it would take,” Stewart said.
Help is out there
He said when he talked to groups of people five years ago about whether they had been impacted by suicide or attempted suicide of someone close to them, hardly anyone would raise their hands.
“They just didn’t want to talk about it,” he said.
“I have that same conversation now. . . and almost everyone raises their hand. It’s really shocking to see how this has impacted so many people,” he said.
Stewart stressed the people who feel hopeless need to be shown that other people have been through this.
“Nine out of ten people who attempt suicide, don’t have another attempt.
“It starts with telling people, you’re not alone. Please let us help you,” Stewart said.
If you are in crisis, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The service is available to anyone. All calls are confidential. http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
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