(Salt Lake City) – Despite observed increases in the number of suicides and drug overdoses in other states and overall nationally, new data released today by the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) shows these haven’t increased in Utah during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The number of Utahns who died by suicide or unintentional drug overdose remains high, but we haven’t seen any changes in the number of deaths since the onset of the pandemic in Utah in March 2020,” said Michael Staley, suicide prevention research coordinator with the UDOH. On average, 640 Utahns die by suicide each year, and another 6,500 are treated in emergency departments for suicide-related behaviors.
Key findings from the report show:
- The number of Utahns who died by suicide has remained statistically unchanged since January 2015. There were also no changes in suicides for any age groups.
- The overall trend in the number of Utahns who went to an emergency department after attempting suicide or for thoughts of suicide (suicide ideation) did not change between January 2020 and August 2021.
- The number of Utahns who died by accidental or undetermined drug overdose from March 2020 to the end of May 2021 remained consistent with the number of deaths in previous years.
- The number of Utahns who went to an emergency department for any drug overdose was steady between January 2020 and August 2021.
The long-term consequences of the pandemic on mental health, suicide, and substance abuse will take time to understand. While a great deal of this report shows that there has been no change over time, other sources do indicate that Utahns felt the mental health impacts of the pandemic in ways that are not beneficial to overall well being.
“There’s no doubt the pandemic has placed additional stresses on individuals, families, and communities. But the fact is, the vast majority of people effectively manage crises, serious mental illness, and extremely difficult circumstances. The typical response to multiple stressors and crises is resilience and recovery, and we are seeing that in our data so far,” said Staley.
The report also shows the number of calls received by the Utah Crisis Line (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) have steadily increased over time, a trend that has been seen for several years. “While an increasing number of calls to the crisis line could mean more individuals are experiencing distress, this increase may also mean more Utahns are seeking help rather than suffering in silence,” said Staley.
Getting care in a timely manner is critical for people experiencing increased emotional, mental, or substance use related concerns. Seek help for yourself or for someone you care about by calling 800-273-TALK (8255) or visiting liveonutah.org. Resources for those seeking help for substance use can be found at 211utah.org or opidemic.org.
“We know that prevention works, treatment is effective, and people can and do recover from suicidal thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Together we can make a difference by providing caring, culturally appropriate, and evidenced-based interventions. We can do this by fostering environments that promote acceptance, respect, healing, and recovery,” said Allison Foust, suicide prevention program administrator with the Utah Department of Human Services and co-chair of the Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition.
These interventions are outlined in the new Utah Suicide Prevention State Plan, 2022-2026 released by the Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition. The plan was developed by suicide prevention professionals, researchers, healthcare workers, LGBTQ+ advocates, survivors, family members, and others affected by suicide. It serves as an important tool to guide prevention work and policy throughout the state over the coming years.