The Utah dichotomy: High rankings in happiness, suicide

ST. GEORGE  – The mental health of Utah’s people presents a dichotomy: According to several studies, Utah ranks as one of the happiest states in the U.S., yet at the same time the state has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation. How is this possible?

According to the most recent Gallup-Healthways well-being index (for 2014), the state of Utah ranks eighth in overall well-being. In the report, Gallup-Healthways interviewed over 175,000 people in all 50 states. They measured five metrics:

Stock Photo | St. George News
Stock Photo | St. George News
  • Purpose: Liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals
  • Social: Having supportive relationships and love in your life
  • Financial: Managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security
  • Community: Liking where you live, feeling safe and having pride in your community
  • Physical: Having good health and enough energy to get things done daily

Utah ranks 23rd in purpose, ninth in social, 33rd in financial, seventh in community and fifth in physical.

Wallet Hub, a finance website, lists Utah as the happiest state in the nation. In the report, Wallet Hub looked at three different aspects: Emotional and physical well-being (with 13 further metrics), work environment (with six metrics) and community, environment and recreational activities (six metrics). The site utilized findings from four different, comprehensive studies.

However, according to the recently released report by America’s Health Rankings, Utah is 47th for suicide deaths, 50 being the highest, with 22.1 such deaths per 100,000 people. The national average, according to the same report, is 13 deaths per 100,000 people.


Furthermore, according to Utah’s Public Health Data Resource, suicide is the leading cause of death for Utahns age 10-17 and 18-24, the second leading cause of death for ages 25-44, the fourth leading cause of death for ages 45-64. Overall, suicide is the eighth leading cause of death in the state.

Contrast those numbers with overall national statistics: The U.S. experiences anywhere from 36,000-40,000 deaths per year from suicide, ranking suicide as the 10th leading cause of death, said Lynn Bjorkman, co-director of Reach4Hope, a nonprofit organization in Washington County whose name stands for “Reduce suicide through Education Awareness Collaboration and Hope.”

“It’s like an airliner with a hundred people crashing into the mountainside every day of the year,” he said. “Nobody would stand for that kind of thing.”

Why so high in suicides?

There are a lot of reasons Utah has such a high suicide rate, said Wayne Connors, president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Utah Southwest, part of which is location; for factors that remain unconfirmed, mountain states tend to have some of the highest suicide rates. The region is often called the “suicide belt” and includes Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming.

Stock Photo | St. George News
Stock Photo | St. George News

Large family size and the accompanying stress, societal pressure and isolation all contribute to a sense of hopelessness, Connors said. Adding to that is the rural population, which has limited access to mental health services.

“You don’t have the services and there is a shortage of psychologists, sociologists, counselors throughout the United States and even here in St. George,” Connors said. “We get a monster turnover … every six months. They contract for six months and boom, they’re gone so we get somebody else.”

Assisted Outpatient Treatment is a method Connors pointed to as a way to get help for the mentally ill instead of jailing them, a common result for those who are a danger to themselves or others.

“That is much more effective than jail,” Connors said, and:

Sixty percent of the people in jail have some form of mental illness, 40 percent have a severe mental illness. The jails are becoming our new insane asylums.

Several studies have shown a correlation between altitude and higher suicide rates, Bjorkman said.

Western culture, with its emphasis on self-reliance and “rugged individualism” also contributes to the high suicide rates, Bjorkman said. People are less likely to seek help when they feel they must deal with their problems on their own.

“Everybody kind of thinks they’re tough and they don’t have to ask for help.”

There is a large discrepancy, Bjorkman said, between the “tough guy” attitudes of people living in the mountain regions  – where the suicide rates are high – and those of people living in other regions of the country where suicide is not as prevalent. He added:

Stock Image | St. George News
Stock Image | St. George News

People in the Intermountain West say you have to be crazy to go see a therapist. People on the coasts say you have to be crazy not to go see a therapist. When you think of the underlying message there, it really says something about the attitude of the pioneer, rugged individualist, it really is a misguided attitude.

Warning signs and suicide prevention

Through the collaborative efforts of multiple agencies and medical professionals, the Reach4Hope task force works to educate the public about how to prevent suicide, Bjorkman said. The organization utilizes a technique called QPR:  Question, Persuade and Refer, teaching people what to look for, what questions to ask, how to persuade people to get help and where to get help.

“We teach people the warning signs of suicide, and how to spot warning signs and take action,” Bjorkman said. “We use this QPR method to catch people before they get to that point where they are ready to take their own lives.”

According to Hope4Utah, the following are some of the warning signs of those considering suicide:

  • Suicidal talk – talks about wanting to die or being a burden
  • Preoccupation with death or dying
  • Signs of depression – loss of interest in usual activities
  • Behavior changes – extreme mood swings
  • Giving away prized possessions and making arrangements for unfinished business
  • Difficulty with appetite and sleeping too little or too much
  • Taking excessive risks
  • Increased drug use
  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
  • Withdrawn – isolated

Prevention requires education on a multi-faceted level, according to Hope4Utah. Those who work in education, students, parents and family members need to be trained on awareness of the factors that contribute to depression and despondency, as well as the resources available to those in crisis.

Creating a safe environment for students, peer mediation, peer counseling, and allowing mental health professionals to make their services known to students are all also important factors in assisting those who are facing mental health issues.

In Southern Utah there are a multitude of sources available to those in need. The NAMI Southwest Chapter, Hope4Utah, Reach4Hope, the Southwest Behavioral Health Center and Behavioral Health at Intermountain Dixie Regional Medical Center all offer services and assistance for people in crisis.


  • Washington County Crisis Lines: Telephone 435-634-5600 or 800-574-6763

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Telephone 800-273-TALK (8255)

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.


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  • Jeannette December 26, 2015 at 11:34 am

    Suicide needs to be broken up for the use of studying “reasons”. Is the act due to actual mental illness such as bipolar disorder, or is it due to situational depression? Those with actual mental illness who are suicidal will exhibit different behavior patterns than those with situational.

    It’s very difficult for people to understand the total depth of hopelessness for those who have a mental illness that causes an intrinsic, so to speak, depression. There is NO rational reason for people with this type of BIOLOGICAL problem, and loved ones of people who do commit suicide due to a mental illness might be made to feel as though they haven’t done something “right” or possibly done enough to help that person.

    There is absolutely nothing anyone can do to prevent a suicide of this type other than to call mental health and law enforcement for intervention. Hospitalization in a mental health facility may be required so the person might be stabilized on medication for their specific problem. I believe this is where St. George lacks services – for people with actual mental illness and may require hospitalization. It’s rather barbaric to place those with mental illness caused by a problem of biology in “jail” and would definitely be a detriment to mental health and mental illness.

    Those with situational depression HAVE an understandable reason to be depressed. If others have knowledge of a person who is UNDERSTANDABLY depressed, then real intervention is possible through out-patient services such as counseling. They might also benefit from anti-depressant medications.

    There are many sides to suicide and this article seems to be rather simplistic for a very complicated discussion of suicide. How many are due to actual mental illness versus how many are due to situational problems.

    • Terry December 27, 2015 at 8:08 am

      Screw medication, it all about Realationships!???

  • 42214 December 26, 2015 at 12:13 pm

    one symptom of mental disorder is the person who capitalizes words that shouldn’t be capitalized. It’s ANNOYING and UNNECESSARY. The fact is there are only THREE states with a higher suicide rate than Utah and I’m sure those states have the same SITUATIONAL and BIOLOGICAL statistical factors as Utah.

  • .... December 26, 2015 at 2:15 pm

    The high rate of suicide is caused by LDS

  • Terry December 27, 2015 at 8:07 am

    The Guilt Mormons bestow upon wayward Family is Sad, Suicide seems to Speak to those who are Cast out from the “fold”. Terrible really. If you are one a these n have a foot out the door of that Cult, Run to Him, He will Save Thee.

    • Ladyk December 28, 2015 at 2:09 am

      Terry no one can “feel quilty”. If you do feel that way then it is because of something you did. Y ou can’t blame.someone else for your feelings. Is there pressure put on family members who leave the church? Probably, depending on the family. But it is out of love and concern for that family member, not out of a desire to hurt them. We all have to own our actions and feelings. Trying to blame them on someone else is just a waste of time and won’t help you heal at all.

      Another thing that is a waste of time is calling another religion a cult but I am sure there will be others who want to jump on your band wagon and make some noise. All of which serves no purpose at all.

      • .... December 28, 2015 at 10:11 am

        Another waste of time is your comment with your pro cult. oops I mean pro Mormon cult beliefs and disrespectful attitude towards others .. have a nice day cult member

        • Ladyk December 28, 2015 at 11:32 am

          Who’s the one being disrespectful here? I don’t care what church you go to or if you go to one at all. Your insesent need to call the LDS church a cult tells us a lot about you and what kind of a person you are. You aren’t the first to say it and you won’t be the last. Your problem is no one cares about it. It’s just to bad you have to fill your life with such hatred. What a great way to live your life. Happy new year.

          • 42214 December 28, 2015 at 4:39 pm

            Gee LadyK, are you trying to make …. feel guilty? Questioning what type of person he is, and no one cares about it. Seems a little hypocritical to me. But that’s OK, you’re a good church going gal that is forgiven.

          • .... December 28, 2015 at 6:31 pm

            Happy New Year Cult LadyK .ha ha ha what a way to live your life eh ? you are such a disrespectful cult member I’m sure your cult holds you in high regards.

      • 42214 December 28, 2015 at 11:44 am

        People make other people feel guilty constantly as part of normal interaction. Some develop defenses mechanisms and others succumb to it. You are so full of toro feces it’s ridiculous LadyK.

  • ladybugavenger December 28, 2015 at 1:24 pm

    LadyK have you heard of codependency? You may be in a codependent relationship with your cult

  • .... December 28, 2015 at 6:25 pm

    Ha ha ha Have a nice cult ladyk

  • ladybugavenger December 29, 2015 at 10:37 am

    Stop the hate…Legalize Marijuana!

    • .... December 29, 2015 at 2:19 pm


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