Seventeen suicides took place in Syracuse between March 2012 and March 2013 — and Jamie Nagle, who was Mayor of the small community at the time, decided something had to be done and enlisted help from Intermountain McKay-Dee Hospital. Kristy Jones, Community Projects Coordinator at McKay-Dee, met with Mayor Nagle in January 2013 to explore possible solutions and together they decided to start by hosting a town hall meeting where they could address the problem as a community and educate people about the signs and symptoms of suicide and how to respond appropriately.
Gathering people in positions of influence who could help change dangerous behaviors
Nagle and Jones knew that to maximize their impact, they’d have to get influential people to the meeting, including members of the medical community, clergy, educators, law enforcement officials, legislators, and representatives from the suicide prevention organization NUHOPE (Northern Utah Hold On, Persuade, Empower).
The meeting was held March 23, 2013, at Syracuse High School where 325 people attended. When Mayor Nagle and Ms. Jones first met in January, 12 suicides had occurred in Syracuse since the previous March. By the night of the town hall meeting, five more had been documented. At the meeting, the mother of a young girl who had committed suicide shared her experience and stressed the importance of suicide prevention programs. Those in attendance were offered a variety of resources and educated on how to respond to the symptoms of suicide through the QPR — or Question, Persuade, and Refer— method.
“We could have never garnered the initial support we needed to launch our suicide prevention efforts in Syracuse and surrounding communities without the town hall meeting,” said Jones. “Gathering so many influential figures together was vital to our success.”
The meeting was just the beginning
After the meeting, the city of Syracuse started setting up suicide prevention measures throughout the community. One of their most effective steps was the creation of HOPE Squads in the Syracuse and Clearfield high schools. To form a squad in each of the schools, students were asked which of their peers they’d feel most comfortable approaching if they had a problem. From the list of students who were named, a HOPE Squad was formed at each school. Its members were trained in the Question/Persuade/Refer method and in other preventive measures.
“Since we had our town meeting and formed the HOPE Squads in our schools, we’ve seen a dramatic reduction in suicides,” said Jones. “As of one month ago, we’ve only reported one suicide in Syracuse in the past 15 months. HOPE Squads and other efforts have continued to expand in the community. More and more teens are being taught the signs and symptoms of suicide — and more lives are being saved as a result.”
The town hall meeting and the HOPE Squads were part of a larger organization called NUHOPE, a task force formed in 2007 at McKay-Dee Hospital. “I couldn’t implement the suicide prevention work we do without the financial support of the McKay-Dee Hospital Foundation,” said Jones. “We didn’t just have a meeting and leave it at that. We’ve been working hard in our schools and community ever since, and it’s paying off.”
Their success in Syracuse is being noticed by other communities and the city’s methods are being shared and implemented to help prevent suicide in a variety of other locations. “Our model is being shared statewide as a best practice,” said Jones.
“I’m inspired by the way McKay-Dee Hospital stepped in to help prevent suicides within their community and by the success they’ve seen,” said Mikelle Moore, VP of Community Benefit for Intermountain Healthcare. “And what’s most inspiring to me is this is just one wonderful example of how Intermountain hospitals are continually partnering with their communities to successfully confront issues that threaten the health of our populations.”
Facts about suicide in Utah
- Suicide is the eighth leading cause of death in Utah overall the second leading cause for young people ages 10 to 17
- 545 Utahns died from suicide in 2012 and 598 teens attempted suicide
- Over the past 10 years, Utah’s national ranking in suicides has ranged from seventh to sixteenth highest in the nation and fifth in the number of teen deaths
- Utah ranks first in the nation in terms of serious suicidal ideation: One in 15 adults has thought seriously about suicide
- McKay-Dee Hospital’s ER sees an average of 696 suicide attempts per year