The Family Place lauded as model for Utah advocacy groups

The Family Place in Logan is playing a part in the local crusade against suicide, according to Curtis Snelgrove, its director of Mental Health First Aid.

LOGAN – The Family Place is a model for non-profit organizations dedicated to strengthening families and protecting children, according to state Rep. Dan Johnson, R-District 4.

The Family Place opened in Logan nearly 40 years ago as a shelter for children involved in domestic crises. Since then, the organization has expanded to additional locations in Hyrum and Smithfield to serve the family needs of residents of Cache and Rich counties.

During a recent legislative recap for the members of the Logan City Council, Johnson boasted that “our Family Place” is recognized statewide as a model for how to run a family advocacy group.

“That’s why we now have 12 centers like the Family Place and 17 similar respite nurseries across the state,” he added.

“At the Family Place,” said Curtis Snelgrove, its director of Mental Health First Aid, “everything we do – and I mean everything – is directed toward our mission to ‘strengthen families and protect children’.”

“Everything” at the Family Place includes group, family and individual therapy sessions addressing past or present trauma, parent-child relationships, marital communication and mental health challenges like depression or anxiety.

The center also fulfills an educational role with classes and workshops covering topics like step-family dynamics, positive parenting techniques and child empowerment.

Additionally, the Family Place houses the Kids’ Place, a respite child-care and shelter facility for youngsters 11 and under, and the Starfish Children’s Center for youngsters transitioning to foster care.

The center’s Trauma Resiliency Project provides treatment and services to children and families who have experienced an emotional upheaval, including the death of a loved one, abuse, domestic violence, community violence, parental separation, a serious accident, bullying, refugee trauma, military trauma or any other event that significantly impacts a child’s ability to cope.

Finally, the Mental Health First Aid program at the Family Center provides education, outreach events and promotional efforts to increase community awareness of mental health concerns while reducing the perceived stigma of needing mental health assistance.

Most recently, however, Snelgrove said the staff of the Family Place is placing special emphasis on suicide prevention efforts.

That new focus, he said, is in response to a recent rash of suicides that have plagued Cache Valley.

According to Cache County victim advocates, there have been a total of 15 local suicides in the past five months, with 13 of those incidents occurring since Jan. 1. Previously, authorities said, this area experienced about one successful suicide a month.

According to statistics supplied by the Centers for Disease Control, Utah’s rate of suicide has tended to exceed the national rate of similar deaths in recent years. In 2019, for example, Utah’s suicide rate was 21.2 self-inflicted deaths per 100,000 residents, compared to a nationwide suicide rate of 14.5 deaths per capita. The suicide rate in the Bear River Health Department’s three-county area also slightly exceeded the national average in 2019.

Psychologists suggest that isolation and stress arising from the coronavirus pandemic may be contributing to a recent spike in those already dire statistics.

Late in 2020, the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition reported a more than 25 percent increase in crisis calls to their hotlines since the start of the pandemic.

The Utah Department of Health reports that an average of 70 Utahns per day are treated for self-inflicted injuries. State officials add that more than 60 percent Utah students in grades 6 through 12 have reported experiencing at least mild symptoms of depression.

Snelgrove said the Family Place’s primary suicide prevention tool is the “I Am Still Here” seven-part video series.

Those locally-made videos, he explained, are designed to reduce the prevalence of suicide by providing stories and educational information to boost empowerment and confidence.

Each of those videos addresses a specific topic relating to suicide, with difficult stories from individuals who have been affected by suicide. The videos also include advice from experts about stigma, risk factors and warning signs, how to talk to someone in a crisis and protective factors.

“These are very difficult and uncomfortable topics to address,” Snelgrove admitted. “But I know that when we choose to be comfortable with what is uncomfortable and talk about these topics, we will … help those who are suffering and perhaps even save their lives.”

Johnson said the Family Place is slated to receive some additional financial support from the state that may benefit its suicide prevention efforts.

During the recently concluded general session of the Legislature, Johnson introduced two requests for appropriations targeting domestic issues.

“The first of those,” he said, “was $2.88 million for the Family Centers of Utah. Here locally, our Family Place will receive, according to my estimates, about $400,000.

“I was also able to obtain about $3.5 million for abuse prevention and services for victims of abuse, both battered men and women.”

Because suicide is the leading cause of death for young people in the age group from 10 to 24 statewide, the Legislature also enacted suicide prevention programs specifically aimed at young people.

“In an effort to target services to our youth,” said Sen. Chris Wilson, R-District 25, “we passed House Bill 18, entitled ‘Mental Health Days for Students.’ That law adds mental health as a valid excuse for a school absence. Other states that implemented this attendance policy have seen a decrease in youth suicide rates.

“Additionally, we passed House Bill 93, covering ‘Youth Suicide Prevention Programs.’ That law extends suicide prevention education programs to elementary and secondary grades, requiring the language of the programs to reflect those specific age groups.”

Snelgrove added that the Family Place is also participating in the efforts of a local suicide prevention task force recently assembled by Cache County Executive David Zook.

While that ad hoc group organizes, Snelgrove urged local residents in crisis to contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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