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Utah Program to Focus on Mental-Health Issues from COVID Crisis

Public health officials say the stress of life during the coronavirus crisis has caused a sharp increase in the number of people in Utah experiencing depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. (Kioshkin/AdobeStock)
Public health officials say the stress of life during the coronavirus crisis has caused a sharp increase in the number of people in Utah experiencing depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. (Kioshkin/AdobeStock)
May 26, 2020

SALT LAKE CITY -- While most Utahns seem to have weathered the coronavirus pandemic with less illness and death than has been seen elsewhere, they have not been unaffected by the crisis. Public health officials say the stress and uncertainty of living under a stay-at-home order has caused an increase in anxiety and depression.

In response, the state and private groups have launched the Live On campaign, a 3-year drive to promote education, provide resources and change the culture around suicide and mental health. Taryn Hiatt, Utah director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said those who are struggling need to know where to find help.

"We are amidst an unprecedented health crisis. Many of us who have never experienced mental-health conditions before might be now," Hiatt said. "So now more than ever, we need to accelerate our momentum and move forward with hope and encourage people to seek help."

For the past five years, Utah has had one of the highest suicide rates in the country, and those numbers have increased during the pandemic. The state legislature approved $1 million that was matched by private donations to fund the Live On program.

Hiatt said mental-health issues can touch more than the individuals experiencing them alone; family, friends and co-workers often are affected by the situation. She said her life was deeply changed by a family member's struggles.

"I don't have to live with those secrets anymore today. And I'm so grateful for that," she said. "While this is not a cause I would have chosen had it not touched me personally, it is a cause I will fight for the rest of my life."

Brian Higgins is the founder and director of the group Mental Healthy Utah, which works to fight the stigma of getting help for mental health issues. He said the stress of living with the pandemic has left many people unsure of where to turn.

"A normal person who's suddenly cooped up, isolated, doesn't have a support structure, is having difficulties and doesn't know where to turn; the two hardest questions for people to ask is 'I don't know' and 'I need help,'" Higgins said.

He said campaigns such as LiveOnUtah.org, his group at MentalHealthyUtah.org, and others are available to provide information and referrals to assist people in finding the help they need.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - UT