Safe UT app making inroads despite 36 youth suicides so far in 2017

SALT LAKE CITY — The SafeUT app is reaching a growing number of Utah students and connecting them to life-saving services, but the need for help is profound, said Rep. Steve Eliason, addressing the Utah State Board of Education Friday.

Thirty-six Utah youths died by suicide this year through July, “which is a 12 percent increase from the worst previous period we had, which was through 2015 when we had 32 fatalities,” the Sandy Republican said.

The Utah Department of Health has not yet published the new statistics, but Eliason said he receives a monthly data report.

“Unfortunately this number will do nothing but go up because it is preliminary,” he said. There were five youth suicides in Utah during July alone, Eliason said.

According to the state health department, suicide is the leading cause of death in Utah among youths ages 10-18, he said. In 2013, suicide surpassed unintentional injuries as the leading cause of death among Utah youths ages 10 to 17.

After hearing the statistics, State School Board member Joel Wright asked Eliason why a growing number of Utah youths are taking their own lives, wondering aloud if the increase is due to social media, youths constantly comparing themselves to others, sexting, porn culture or drugs.

“I mean what is this? Why? Why?” Wright said.

The causes and drivers are “multifaceted and complex,” Eliason said.

Expert say youth are particularly vulnerable to suicide contagion.

“Unfortunately, nationally as well as in Utah, we believe that through strong anecdoctal evidence, the spike we are seeing is a result of the series called ’13 Reasons Why,'” Eliason said.

Board member Alisa Ellis said she applauded Utah school districts that sent out warnings to parents about the series, “because it was the topic of lunch discussion every day at my child’s high school. It was such a dark topic that he had to get up and leave his friend group every day.”

Safe UT is a suicide prevention and crisis app created under legislation sponsored by Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, and Eliason some three years ago. It is the first app that allows students to confidentially provide tips about perceived threats at…

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