Over 500 community members and students attended the third annual Suicide Prevention Conferences Hosted by Utah Valley University held on Oct. 4.
Keynote speaker and author Craig Miller gave a personal opening address about his own experience with mental illness and suicide. The room fell silent as Miller shared his own touching experience from youth to adulthood on dealing with extreme anxiety, depression and OCD.
“The only way it’s going to get better is if we can normalize (mental illness) to the point that it’s totally acceptable to talk about it,” said Miller. “Students on this campus know what it’s like to feel. We know what it’s like to feel, to hurt. All of us experience emotions and feelings in some way. Can you imagine that if instead of internalizing that, we could openly discuss that.”
Utah suicide rates have steadily risen in recent years. According to data collected by the Utah Department of Health (DOH), an average of 529 Utahns die from suicide, making it the leading cause of death in the state for adults age 18 to 24 and the second leading cause of death for those age 25 to 44.
As emotional as Miller’s story was, his address carried a message of positivity and hope.
After Millers keynote address, the audience moved outside to the SLWC Plaza for the dove release ceremony. Hundreds filled the plaza as Astrid S. Tuminez, president of UVU, spoke about the tradition at UVU.
“I was part of this conference last year,” said Tuminez. “No student is left out. No matter what you are going through we have dedicated staff, facilitates and professionals to help and ensure you are not left alone.”
Silence fell over the crowd as loss survivors released white doves, some with personal messages from loss survivors.
Attendees of the conference hoped to get some sense of relief and understanding about suicide and how best to prevent or manage this hidden crises. Suicide is a topic often kept secret because of the associated stigma. The event provided an open forum in order to facilitate a discussion.
Necia Clark, a UVU graduate, said she has been attending this Suicide Prevention Conference for years. This event has helped her deal with her own depression.
Area Director for the Utah/Nevada chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide and UVU graduate Taryn Hiatt gave a presentation entitled, “Healing after Suicide Loss: a Survivor’s Perspective.” Hiatt’s presentation gave special focus to an aspect of suicide which is often overlooked — healing after loss.
The Director of Crisis Services J.C. Graham has been involved in suicide prevention efforts at UVU since 2007. Three years ago, Graham was approached with an offer to sponsor a UVU Suicide Prevention Symposium by the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
“We had such a great response from the symposium that the planning committee decided to expand to a conference format,” said Graham. “I know that I appreciate the collaboration and I am forever grateful that the UVU College of Humanities and Social Sciences sponsor the conference.”
Research presented at the conference indicated that negative stigmas around mental health issues play a major role as to why adults and adolescents don’t reach out for help.
“We’ve got to create a culture that is smarter about mental health,” said Hiatt. “Hey, our brains get sick, same as any other organ, and we need to treat it.”
Anyone struggling with thoughts of suicide or self-harm can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-(801) 273-8255. UVU also offers counselling services and crisis intervention as SC-221.
- To make an appointment with a counselor from UVU Student Health services call 1-(801) 863-8876
- The “Safe UT” app gives free access to licensed counselors who provide 24/7 crisis intervention and emotional support
- Call the LGBTQ-friendly Trevor Project at 1-(866) 488-7386
Reporting by Erik Hight and Ali Ajokaiye.