Suicide rates are rising in Cache Valley. County officials want to change that.
Correction June 26, 2023. A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that 22 people died per year between the years 2017-2021. Twenty-two total people in Cache County died by suicide between 2017-2021.
“Right now, we're gonna begin our suicide awareness walk," said Jimmy Birman, chairman of the Cache Suicide Prevention Coalition and executive director of United Way of Cache Valley. He opened the Suicide Awareness and Prevention Walk on May 20.
About 50 people gathered around suicide prevention and support resource booths in front of the Historic Courthouse in Logan. Others lined up for colored necklaces.
Colors ranged from blue to gold, signaling different relationships to suicide, including loss of a loved one, first responders, and LGBTQ+ communities. Green symbolized a personal struggle with suicide, like in the case of Cache Valley resident Courtnie Eddington, who tried to end her life on October 18, 2022.
“I am just grateful that I'm still here," Eddington said, "because after that moment, I instantly regretted trying to attempt and just thinking of my babies."
She struggled with postpartum depression after giving birth to her first child. During her second pregnancy in 2022, her father died by suicide a few months before the baby was born. Like before, she was depressed after giving birth.
“My brain was constantly in fight or flight mode it felt like and so I had pretty severe postpartum depression with him — so much so that it was actually becoming postpartum psychosis." Eddington said. "I was seeking counseling and the medications that I could take, which didn't help too much in that moment.”
Her husband found her the day she tried to end her life.
Eddington was admitted to the behavioral health unit at the hospital where things started getting better. What helped her the most was her support system, her husband, mother, co-workers, counseling and medication.
Through this process she was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder, which for Eddington meant that she felt fine and “normal” for a few weeks, but then suddenly something would trigger her, and she would be in a severe depression for a month or more.
“My daughter seemed to absorb everything. She would notice when I was low and asked why I was sad, why I was crying. And I would just tell her that Mommy didn't feel good, or Mommy's head hurt, Mommy's heart hurt. And so, that would make her sad," Eddington said.
“It completely changed my reason to be here. Why is life important to me? What can I do to bring that meaning to others and share that with them?" she asked. "It kind of lit that fire that I needed to do something."
That “something” was to start working as a social worker in suicide prevention and help those struggling with thoughts of suicide understand they are not alone and help is available.
“They're not crazy. I think that's the biggest thing I want to say. No matter what they're feeling, they're not crazy. They need help. And don't be afraid to get it,” Eddington said.
“One of the things that we know is that if people have at least one positive influence in their life, one person, one mentor, one supporter who is there, that that makes a huge difference," said Cache County Executive David Zook.
“We can help people today; we can help them right away. And we don't have to be an expert to be able to help them," Zook said.
Suicide rates are climbing
Utah dropped from the 9th highest state for suicide rates in the nation to the 14th in 2021. Although suicide rates in Utah have dropped, rates in Cache County are steadily climbing.
Forty-six people in Cache Valley died by suicide last year. Most were adolescents and middle-aged white males.
The Bear River Health Department reports that suicides among adolescents have doubled in the last 10 years. And those 30 to 44 years of age have a suicide mortality rate of 21.38 per 100,000 people. Meaning, if you followed 100,000 average people in that age group in Cache County from 2017-2021, you'd have seen about 22 of them die by suicide in that time.
Zook said these statistics are not complete because of insufficient record keeping.
What the county is doing
Zook has been working with experts from healthcare, nonprofits, mental health and other organizations to create an Emergency Task Force and a plan of action.
“Getting people connected to help can make a big difference," he said.
The county created a Mobile Crisis Outreach Team similar to a medical first responder team, but without the lights and sirens. They’ve also initiated the 988 mental health crisis and suicide number that anyone can call to receive help.
The county is also creating a receiving center. “It is a mental health crisis facility, similar to the role of an emergency room or urgent care, but it's specifically for people in a mental health or substance abuse crisis," Zook said.
There are also plans for a Fatality Review Board to review each case of suicide in the county, and compile and analyze data to find patterns and identify ways to prevent suicide, either on a personal level or a community level.
“So those are some of the things that we're doing to actually implement higher level of patient care and improve the process and eliminate the missing links in our continuum of care," Zook said.
“We don't have to wait until the mobile crisis outreach team gets there, we don't have to wait until somebody ends up in the emergency room or receiving center. We don't have to wait until people get to that level, before they get help," he said.
For information on suicide prevention and the resources provided throughout the state of Utah, go to these resources or call 988.