Utah’s health professionals were taught about the newest research and techniques to build a uniform prevention system for people considering suicide Oct. 5. Taryn Aiken Hiatt, the keynote speaker at UVU’s second Conference on Suicide Prevention, raised awareness for suicide in Utah.

Hiatt’s autobiographical speech created a leading spirit for the conference. She shared her story about her own suicide attempts and her father’s death by suicide on Oct. 5 in 2002. Now she is the area director in Utah and Nevada for the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention.

She hopes that people be more open-minded about this sensitive mental health issue, and her wish is to establish a new attitude and language towards suicidal behavior that most citizens do not want to talk about.

Because of the lack of education in public, and the shame that comes along with admitting to thoughts of suicide, Hiatt’s plea to the audience was to stop defining suicide as a selfish way to end one’s life.

“It is okay not to be okay,” Hiatt said. “It is okay to seek help and to get help. We need people to encourage people at risk to stay. You all need to help people focus on giving them a reason to live. We have to understand the perspective of an individual thinking of suicide. There is only limited thinking about the getting rid of the pain but we have to give them a feeling of coming together and finding another solution.”

Because suicide is noticed more among younger generations, especially among people in college, higher academic institutions have to improve its programs to help college students in challenging situations. As a psychology graduate, Hiatt believes that UVU is on top with suicide prevention, but that there is still a need to implement mental health in class.

“Talk about the stress of being a college student,” Hiatt said. “Understand that is okay for us to struggle in that change and we might feel anxious or depressed.  What we have to make sure is that we address suicide as a public mental health issue. We have to know how these disorders look like so we can recognize it in ourselves in order to get the help and support we need.”

Michael J. Staley, the suicide prevention research coordinator at the Utah Office of the Medical Examiner, explained that Utah has the fifth highest suicide rate in the US and the rate is still increasing. In 2016, 620 people died by suicide and 32 of them were adolescents ages 10 to 17. He also said that every 40 out of 500 students have been affected by suicidal behavior because someone close to them has ended their lives or has tried to end their lives. Staley pointed out why it is fundamentally important to share the facts about suicide.

“I have been honored so many times that suicide survivors have shared their story with me. We call people who experienced this grief and loss in order to understand how they feel and what their needs are,” said Staley. “Suicide survivors want to be reached out to. Therefore, we have to train all health professionals to help these survivors.”

Another session focused on the LGBTQ+ community. It was centered around what struggles they have to deal with and what their personal social network can do to keep rejection feelings from their community. Therapist Laura Skaggs Dulin, who works with this community, said that people who find out that they identify as part of the LGBTQ+ group need a safe space where someone of their social network listens to their stories and the challenges they have to face, especially in times where they try to come out in public.

Around 90 students attended the conference, but Toni Harris, the assistant dean of the College of Humanities & Social Sciences and organizational member for this event, thinks that number should be higher.

“I hope that the number of UVU students who took part at the conference will rise up to 300 hundred each year,” Harris said. “It is so important to start conversations even though it is such a sensitive topic, but the young academic generation is the most affected group where suicidal behavior is noticed.”

She also said we can do our part to help those that might have suicidal thoughts.

“There is research out there that has proven that 20 seconds can make the difference in if someone takes the gun or not,” Harris said. “You can be those 20 seconds if you are just listening and being aware of the signs and support systems. Just let the people with a risk breathe for a moment and sometimes that it is all it takes.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. It’s a free, 24-hour hotline, at 1-800-273-8255.

Photography by Johnny Morris

Instagram: @_johnny.morris_