Death is the final equalizing element of human existence. For those whose lives end, the experience is absolute, for those they leave behind, the experience is prolonged and painful — especially in the case of suicide.
Between 2003 and 2008, 13 UVU students are deceased due to suicide. Others have attempted unsuccessfully. Garrett Lee Smith, who suffered from dyslexia and depression, was one UVU student whose life ended. Following his death, his father, Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon, rallied the Senate to pass the “Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act,” which allocates federal grant money to institutions of higher education to combat suicide. Since it’s passage in 2004, over 125 institutions have been able to fund suicide prevention programs. These prevention programs are desperately needed throughout the U.S., specifically in colleges where it is the second leading cause of death. Utah itself has the seventh highest suicide rate in the nation. Approximately 340 residents die, 1,040 are hospitalized, and 2,650 receive emergency care each year resulting from attempted suicide. As a result of the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act, the suicide prevention program at UVU began two years ago, sponsored by a three-year federal grant. Students can access a mental health therapist though Student Health Services and there is a therapist on call for emergency situations. “Since this program has begun, the number of students coming in for services has increased, which is what we want,” said J.C. Graham, coordinator of Suicide Prevention. “Ideally people will become proactive on our campus by getting involved, asking questions and referring students.” A large portion of Graham’s work entails educating the campus regarding suicide prevention, for which she uses the program “Question, Persuade, Refer” (QPR).
The program offers training to those willing to assist individuals who are contemplating suicide. A person is at higher risk for suicide if they have depression, psychiatric disorders, chronic illness or are affected by substance abuse or abrupt environmental changes.
“My oldest brother Jordan completed suicide when he was 18,” said Lauren Burton, miss UVU 2009. “He was diagnosed with Schizophrenia as well as Bipolar Disorder in the worst two percentile. He really struggled with mental illness and the depression that accompanies it. We knew he was going to attempt and we did everything we could to prevent it.” Graham said that while in 90 percent of suicide cases the victim has a mental illness or injury affecting the brain, there are many other contributing factors. “There is a huge variance in why it happens; there is no one answer. Regardless, people need to be willing to come forward with problems, and people need to be understanding,” said Burton. Anyone could be contemplating suicide, there is no stereotype.
The American College Health Association found that 61 percent of college students feel hopeless, 45 percent feel depression that limits their function, and nine percent feel suicidal. “He was a physically beautiful person as well as extremely intelligent and talented. By just looking at him, a person wouldn’t have suspected anything,” Burton said. She found comfort in the Hope Task Force located in Provo. They hold meetings the first Thursday of every month at Provo Hospital for survivors. The Hope Task Force can be contacted at 801-357-7612. “The meetings really helped me to open up about my experience,” said Burton. She also found a degree of consolation in the artistic expressions of music, art and poetry. She suggested that anyone suffering from a similar situation should find a healthy, therapeutic outlet. “A survivor needs to realize that it was out of their control,” Burton said. “They also need to allow themselves ample time to recover because people grieve at different levels.” Individuals contemplating suicide should be referred to Student Health Services on campus. The office is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and can be contacted at 801-863-8876. To receive specific information regarding suicide prevention and mental health issues visit ulifeline.org/main/page/227
Whether a contemplator or a preventer, suicide is an issue that involves everyone and steps need to be taken to become informed. It could mean saving someone we love, or saving ourselves.