By Amanda McIntosh
Did you know that September is Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month? According to the Center for Disease Control, deaths from suicides and unintentional overdoses rose from 41,346 in 2000 to 110,749 in 2017. Three years later, those numbers are exponentially higher.
Some may wonder why we are addressing suicide prevention and substance use disorders in the same breath. For anyone who has ever been in the dark depths of depression, it may be an obvious connection and visa versa for anyone who has experienced the cycle of substance use disorder. What that means is when someone is struggling with their mental health, a common unhealthy coping mechanism is to turn to substances.
This is especially true if their antidepressant and/or antianxiety medication is “taking too long” to take effect in regulating our brain’s natural dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins, or our “quartet of chemicals responsible for your happiness” levels.*
A lot of times, people are looking for a way to feel nothing as opposed to everything or to just escape from their thoughts and feelings. Similarly, when experiencing substance use disorder, people often feel hopeless and their thoughts can turn to suicide. As the state of Utah stays within the top ten highest rates of suicide and overdose deaths in the country, understanding what you can do is crucial.
A study done by the Harvard T.H. Chan school of public health in 2018 on “Suicide and Firearm Injury in Utah” showed that 18% of all people who died by suicide had opioids in their system, 15% of those who died by firearm suicide had opioids in their system and 48% of those that died by overdose suicide had opioids in their system. We also know that many overdose attempts are made outside of this data (dsamh.utah.gov; Chan, 2018).
It is not surprising to learn that the rise in overdose and suicide death rates over the past two decades paralleled the rise in opioid painkiller prescriptions; later the rise in use of heroin and illegally manufactured fentanyl. Dr. Mark Ilgen of U-M said, “To date, many system-level approaches to address overdose and suicide have addressed these as if they are unrelated outcomes… these adverse outcomes likely go together, and effective efforts to help those with pain will likely need to simultaneously consider both overdose and suicide risk.”
“Because of the common factors involved, the U.S. may be able to reduce the death toll from both overdose and suicide through increased use of proven prevention and treatment strategies.” (Gavin, 2019)
As a coalition, we believe that it takes a whole-body approach to helping those with substance use disorder. There is irrefutable evidence that supports addressing the mental health as well as physical symptoms of substance use disorder. This will look different for everybody. This could entail talk therapy, MAT programs, group therapy, yoga, spiritual practices, a number of other courses or a combination of a myriad of strategies.
It is important to share this information because recovery is possible and suicide is preventable. The HOPE Squad of Carbon, Emery, and Grand Counties and the Carbon & Emery Substance Use Coalition work closely together to change the approach to prevent, intervent, and educate the community on suicide and substance use disorder prevention.
The mission of the board for the HOPE Squad of Carbon, Emery, and Grand Counties is to educate, promote and spread awareness for a healthier community with an emphasis on mental health, suicide prevention, support for suicide loss survivors and to cultivate a stigma-free approach to seeking help. Together with the partnerships, support and expertise of multiple agencies throughout the counties, our overall goal is to reduce the number of people who die by suicide. The HOPE Squad meets on a quarterly basis (virtually) and is open to anyone who would like to be involved.
Start today by learning more and join some of our upcoming events to support yourself, loved ones and your community. The HOPE Squad would like to invite you and your family to attend the activities being planned for Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month. *Masks will be recommended and signs with reminders to stay physically distant will be displayed at each event.*
- The week of Sept. 6-12 is set aside to focus prevention efforts across the nation. On Wednesday, Sept. 9 at the Helper City Park (rhe park by the pool/baseball fields), the HOPE Squad with Four Corners Community Behavioral Health will host the first of two movies in the park. The first movie is Kevin Hines’ “Suicide: The Ripple Effect.” Hines’ brave retelling of his own personal journey with an attempt to end his life turns triumphant in this documentary. (Note: This movie is recommended for ages 14 and older or at parent’s discretion.) Please bring blankets, pillows or lawn chairs for your family. Price Theatre has generously donated popcorn for each movie night and the HOPE Squad will have bottled water.
- On Thursday, Sept. 10 at 7:30 p.m., the HOPE Squad of Carbon, Emery, and Grand Counties will join together with Four Corners Community Behavioral Health to promote World Suicide Prevention and Awareness Day. This worldwide occasion is marked by the lighting of candles at 8 p.m. in honor and remembrance of those we have lost to suicide, how far we have come in research and prevention, as well as to pledge our dedication to ending the stigma around mental health. The HOPE Squad will provide battery-operated candles to anyone who would like to join them. They will meet at 7:30 p.m. and light candles at 8 p.m. for an hour. In Carbon, please join us at the Price City Peace Gardens located at 185 East Main Street. In Emery County, please join us at the Emery County courthouse in Castle Dale located at 95 East Main Street. In Grand County, please join us at City Center located at 217 East Center Street in Moab. A counselor from Four Corners Community Behavioral Health will be available for support and camaraderie.
- The second movie in the park will take place on Saturday, Sept. 12 at the same park and at the same time as the first. The HOPE Squad will share Disney’s “Inside Out.” Following the movie, youth will be encouraged to step forward in a safe space to express how COVID-19, returning to school, and/or how other issues have affected their mental health/emotions and what has worked for them to get through it. Parents and guardians will be given take-home talking points and resources to continue the conversation.
- Join us for an online self-care workshop for women living in Carbon, Emery and Grand counties on Tuesday, Sept. 22. Please register for the Getting it Together: Body, Mind and Spirit Self-Care in Tough Times webinar online at usu-extension-women-self-care.eventbrite.com. Event sponsors include Utah State University Extension HEART Initiative, Utah Women & Leadership Project, Jon M. Huntsman School of Business, Southeast Utah Health Department, Hope Squad of Carbon, Emery, and Grand Counties, and Utah Support Advocates for Recovery Awareness (USARA).
- Other events to look forward to is the Hoo Doo You Run For 5k/10k taking place at Goblin Valley State Park on Saturday, Nov. 7. Be sure to follow the HOPE Squad of Carbon, Emery, and Grand Counties’ Facebook page for more details. The HOPE Squad is also in preliminary planning for a Survivors of Loss Day on Saturday, Nov. 21.
- The Southeast Utah Health Department is available to present an evidence-based Suicide Prevention Training called Q.P.R. (Question, Persuade, Refer.) It is a one-hour-long presentation that teaches the warning signs of depression, how to effectively Question someone’s suicidal intent, Persuade them to live and to get help, and how to Refer them to resources within the community. Narcan training is also available. These two training sessions are free. Please call Amanda or Savannah at (435) 637-3671 for more information.
- If you had the opportunity to attend or view one of the Community Education Dinners that were presented by the Carbon & Emery Opioid & Substance Use Coalition in conjunction with the USU Extension Heart Office, you may have heard a summarized version of this article. If you have not had that opportunity, you can do so by going to usu.edu/heart/community-education-dinner. It’s free and provides an abundance of information related specifically for our rural communities.
 Fisk, Peter, October 19, 2018, “Time to Activate your happy chemicals…dopamine, serotonin, endorphins and oxytocin, https://www.thegeniusworks.com/2018/10/time-to-activate-your-happy-chemicals-dopamine-serotonin-endorphins-and-oxytocin/
*Please note: Talk with your doctor in depth whenever being prescribed an antidepressant/anti-anxiety medication. Ask what you can expect from the medicine, such as side effects and the length of time it needs to be in your system for you to start feeling better (usually about four weeks). Also note that it can take a few trials of different medications/dosage adjustments to find what works best for your body’s chemistry. Never under any circumstance should you stop taking medication abruptly without speaking with your prescriber first.