“One of the things we wanted to do was really help clarify what is the role of faith leaders?" said Kimberly Myers, the state suicide prevention coordinator. "What are the resources that faith leaders can use when the problem is beyond their scope? And then, what are some core considerations for when there is a death in their community, how they can play that vital role in promoting healing and promoting support?"
The Utah State Legislature created her position five years ago as part of their effort to address suicide in Utah. She said one way faith leaders can make a difference is by improving the things they already do.
“Faith leaders already pray for people who are suffering," Myers said. "They already engage in community service efforts. They give people answers to some of the questions of life and purpose and community.”
Myers said the next step is to participate in efforts specifically targeted at suicide prevention.
“Engage in training," Myers said. "Understand what the crisis of suicide looks like in somebody and know how to respond in sort of an evidence-based way that matches up with your role as a faith leader.”
Although some faith leaders may have clinical training to help them address mental health challenges, Myers said volunteer or lay leaders are less likely to. To help bridge this gap, the state is going to provide training to support faith leaders in their efforts.
“We are asking them to engage in what we refer to as gatekeeper trainings. These are trainings such as question, persuade, refer. These are essentially the mental health equivalent of first aid," Myers said.
First aid may be enough to address some people’s challenges, and for those who need more, it will provide support while they transition to receiving additional assistance Myers said.
Trainings will be available to anyone who is interested and can be requested online at utahsuicideprention.org.