In Utah, suicide is the leading cause of death for youth ages 10 to 24, according to a 2019 report out of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute and the Utah Hospital Association. But communities and individuals are finding ways to support each other and prevent more loss. One example is the group Brigham Suicide Prevention in Brigham City, where they are building resilience in individuals and the community.
“I do want to welcome everybody tonight. I know this is a hard group to come to, and we do have a lot of new people that I haven’t seen necessarily in this group,” said Carrie da Cruz, co-chair of Brigham Suicide Prevention.
She’s standing in a room filled with swag: water bottles, pamphlets, T-shirts emblazoned with the word “hope.” She’s welcoming participants of a support group who have braved a cold winter night to give and receive support to those whose lives have been affected by suicide. The organization’s chair, co-chair and outreach coordinator all stayed after the meeting to talk about resilience: what it is and how to make it grow in Utah’s youth. All three have lost loved ones to suicide.
“Our youth want resilience,” said Tara Roche, who chairs Brigham Suicide Prevention. She has talked with many young people on the subject of suicide after losing her son in 2015. She also helps with a teen text line.
Tara continued: “They want to be healthy and realistic about their own mental health as well as their friends. They offer support to one another that can just be incredibly moving. At our trainings and whatnot, we often have young people come up to us and say, ‘I want to be involved,’”
Tara and Carrie agree that while it’s important to get over the stigma of talking about mental health, adults need to do it respectfully.
“We as adults can do a better job of not dismissing our teens’ or our younger children’s’ emotions as just the experience of a child. We need to be better about saying, ‘I don’t understand why you feel that way, I don’t want you to feel that way and so we’re going to do what we can to get you past that,” Carrie said.
Nicole Kaae, the outreach coordinator, said mental health should be part of a teen health check-up.
“I think a lot more of the primary care physicians need to hand out the surveys that are based specifically for teens that are specifically for their special needs” said Nicole.
They also agree adults can play an important role in teens’ lives, whether they are parents or not.
“Through adverse childhood experience studies that have been done, it’s been shown that if a child, especially one who has gone through adverse childhood experiences, has just one caring adult in their life, a lot of children don’t have parents that show that, but it could be a teacher, it could be a church leader, it could be a janitor. And that caring, just to know that somebody cares about me, can be so powerful, and offer that resilience,” Carrie said.
“With teens and even young people up to early 20s, impulsivity is one of the hardest things,” Tara said. “We react much more quickly as teenagers to situations, not necessarily in a healthy way, so they need to be shown, and this is typically by those of us who have had the experience, and it’s one of the reasons we advocate these trainings in the schools, is we can go in and say, look, you can recognize this tendency in yourself, especially maybe as a teenager, to react in a specific way, and teach yourself to react in a different way instead.”
“As we go through life we have to recognize that we’re not alone in our experiences, and especially in a teenage brain that’s very easy for them to grasp ahold of,” Carrie said. “‘No one else feels this way. I’m the only one who feels this way.’ If we can get them to recognize that they’re not alone, that other people do understand what they’re feeling and what they’re going through, and that life can get better, life does get better.”
They agreed that tools are available to help teens learn resilience; from techniques to apps. It may take some trial and error to find what works, but the important thing is to get started and get help if you are struggling.
Resources for suicide prevention and mental health support:
Students experiencing crisis, bullying, threats or who are aware of a threat can communicate with SafeUT through a mobile app, the Call Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) or via school websites that have linked to Safe Utah.
Find the app in Apple and Google Play stores by searching “P3 Tips” and selecting “SafeUT.”
Bear River Mental Health serves all individuals, regardless of age or ability to pay, who are experiencing a mental health crisis.
This organization works to be a catalyst for positive change through support, empowerment and education.
This story was produced in partnership with the Center for Persons with Disabilities.