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Women & Leadership Project examines suicide among Utah women

By Genelle Pugmire - | Sep 8, 2022

Courtesy photo

Susan Madsen, director of the Utah Women & Leadership Project.

September is National Suicide Prevention Month and Susan Madsen and her research team at the Women & Leadership Project are delving into the issue of suicide and suicide ideation on Utah’s women and youth.

In their research, the team found the suicide rate in Utah is consistently higher than the national rate.

“Utah ranked ninth in the US in age-adjusted suicide rates in 2020, and suicide ranks eighth in leading causes of deaths for Utahns,” reads the snapshot. “More deaths result from suicide than from motor vehicle crashes, breast cancer, or other chronic physical health problems.”

In 2020, Utah reported 136 female deaths due to suicides with an age adjusted fate of 8.9 per 100,000.

The 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that 32.5% of all Utah students in grades 6-12 felt sadness or hopelessness for two weeks or more in a row, 17.5% had seriously considered attempting suicide, 13.3% created a suicide plan, 7% attempted suicide one or more times, and 17.9% had purposefully self-harmed (without suicidal intention) one or more times, the snapshot team said.

In 2019, 70 Utahns were treated for self-inflicted injuries each day, on average, which were often associated with suicide attempts or ideation.

“Girls and young women ages 10-24 have a high risk of suicide as their emergency department visits are twice that (487.9 per 100,00) of men and boys (203.3 per 100,000). Furthermore, the rate of emergency department visits among girls in 2019 doubled compared to 2001 (244.3 per 100,000),” reads the research snapshot.

Suicide was also listed as the leading cause of death for people with anorexia, occurring “three times more in women than men (0.9% vs. 0.3%) and is estimated to increase the risk of suicide 50-fold.”

Domestic violence and intimate partner violence are also shown to increase suicide risk.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 33.6% of Utah women experience intimate partner violence in their lifetime. In 2017, approximately one-third (33.8%) of Utah teens experienced an unhealthy dating relationship, with 33.2% of women stating they were emotionally or verbally harmed by their dating partner, and 9.6% stating they were physically hurt on purpose by their dating partner.

Although the reasons for suicide are complex, there are many steps Utahns can take to reduce suicide rates for girls and women. Informed by national literature and local experts, UWLP recommends a comprehensive, multi-faceted approach that includes public policy, social welfare, healthcare, and education, focusing on prevention, identification and intervention, according to Madsen.

Listed below are 18 recommendations Utahns can take to decrease suicidal behavior among girls and women:

  • Avoid normalizing or glamorizing suicide.
  • Create preventative messaging around suicide that promotes hope and healing through empathy, warmth and inclusivity.
  • Educate the community on gender-related risk factors.
  • Encourage communities to promote education, social equality and inclusion.
  • Focus resources on mental health programs that specialize in issues such as postpartum and eating disorders.
  • Fund more research regarding gender-related suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.
  • Incorporate more gender-specific strategies into existing suicide prevention programs.
  • Increase gender-specific training for the programs and resources already in place.
  • Increase resources to those who have attempted suicide or are contemplating suicide.
  • Increase the connectedness of girls and women in Utah through encouraging healthy social connections.
  • Prioritize suicide prevention and mental health programs.
  • Proactively teach coping skills, problem-solving strategies, communication and resilience training.
  • Promote education, economic security and empowerment of women.
  • Provide gender-appropriate, caring, and evidence based interventions.
  • Provide proactive support and resources for girls and women most at risk.
  • Provide social support networks.
  • Provide young women with detailed information about hormone changes across a lifespan as well as support for postpartum psychosis.
  • Reduce stigma around suicidality and mental health issues.

“By promoting education, economic security, and empowerment of women as an integral part of suicide prevention strategies, Utah will be better able to reduce suicidal ideation and suicide rates within its female population,” Madsen said.

“Research examining the suicidal thoughts and behaviors of Utah girls and women is urgently needed. Recognizing the unique needs of women and girls nationally and in Utah is an essential step in tailoring programs to help females who are most at risk,” reads the snapshot. “Through promoting acceptance, respect, healing, and recovery, women in Utah most at risk for suicide can recover and live whole, healthy, and productive lives.”

Madsen’s research team for the study snapshot is Kristy Hodson, Chloe Bhowmick and Cindy Jenkins. The full snapshot is available at https://usu.edu/uwlp/files/snapshot/43.pdf.


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