Santa Clara-Ivins Police present on ‘troubling’ increase in suicide attempt calls

ST. GEORGE —  During a City Council meeting Wednesday, the Santa Clara-Ivins City Police Department discussed the proactive actions they are taking to decrease suicide attempts.

The Santa Clara City Council discusses local suicide prevention actions, Santa Clara, Utah, Oct. 9, 2019 | Photo by Ryann Richardson, St. George News

Chief Bob Flowers told the council the number of suicide-related calls the department has responded to is concerning. He said in September alone, local law enforcement responded to about 17 calls regarding suicide attempts and one completed suicide.

“Law enforcement is kind of in an interesting position when it comes to these calls because generally we don’t make things better when we show up,” Flowers said. “We work very, very hard to take directions from folks who are the experts in the fields.”

Along these lines, Shelley Haupt-Teeples joined the Santa Clara-Ivins Police Department in August 2018 as the victim or witness coordinator. The number of calls the department has received since she joined the team – which Haupt-Teeples said has been maybe over 100 calls, mostly from loved ones – is “troubling.”

When Haupt-Teeples receives a call about a suicide attempt or from a concerned loved one, she follows up with the families and attempts to inform them on available resources. She said she speaks with the families to get a better understanding of the situation in an attempt to personalize the referrals, although most of the time she refers people to a behavioral health program.

“My job is like a triage nurse,” she said. “I’m supposed to stop the bleeding and refer to professionals for long-term care and a customized service plan to meet their needs.”

The Santa Clara City Council discusses local suicide prevention actions, Santa Clara, Utah, Oct. 9, 2019 | Photo by Ryann Richardson, St. George News

Haupt-Teeples has been involved in victim advocacy since 2006 and said she has seen an increase in the number of suicide attempts among teens and young adults.

However, the most at-risk group is still men between the ages of 45-55. There are an equal number of attempts made in other demographics, but attempts from men in this age group tend to be fatal.

Opiate and alcohol abuse, access to firearms and perceived isolation are a few of the factors behind the increase, she said. About half of the individuals in Washington County who have died by suicide used a firearm, Reach for Hope coordinator Teresa Willie said.

The Washington County Suicide Prevention Coalition, also known as Reach for Hope, offers free, two-hour “Question, Persuade, Refer” classes to residents of the county, especially members of law enforcement. The training teaches participants to ask if the person is considering suicide, persuade the person that suicide is not the solution and refer them to mental health professionals according to their needs.

Santa Clara City Hall, Santa Clara, Utah, Oct. 9, 2019 | Photo by Ryann Richardson, St. George News

“For those of us that may not have a degree in mental health areas, it’s designed for somebody who thinks a loved one or person is suicidal,” Haupt-Teeples said.

Willie teaches the QPR classes all over the country. She said, just this quarter, the program has trained 386 gatekeepers, 40 of whom are members of law enforcement that participated in Crisis Intervention Team Training, which is an evidence-based class specifically geared toward first responders.

The CIT Training covers how law enforcement officers can limit the risk to themselves when responding to suicide attempt calls and how they can be aware of an individual who is attempting a “suicide by cop,” where an individual will engage in criminal activity or approach police in a hostile manner in order to be fatally shot by a police officer.

Willie said one of the biggest factors Reach for Hope has been trying to counteract is the limited awareness of suicide prevention in the county. The organization has been hosting meetings to engage with the public and inform communities.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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