‘Hope’ tackles teen issues

By Dawn M. Aerts

Iron County today

Editor’s Note: Part I: We explore how Iron County agencies and the Southwest Behavioral Health has team up with local schools districts, the Intermountain Health Care System, law enforcement and other professionals in tackling teen issues: the prevention of suicide, substance abuse, and depression among local youth.

Heidi Baxley, Prevention Specialist with Southwest Behavioral Health, is full of hope about the Iron County community and their role in preventing and reducing drug abuse and responding to mental health risk factors among youth.

For the past seven years, Baxley, has studied a mountain of data and isn’t afraid to speak out on what she says are “high risk” factors for local teens – the mental health warning signs that include (offbeat) changes in behavior, school absence, substance use, and sometimes, the personal or verbal threats to themselves.

“We have many folks at the table right now,” says Baxley from her modest office in Cedar City, “We know that every community is different.  And that every community has their own unique set of issues. But taking a proactive approach in drug abuse, mental health, and teen suicide are a local priority.”

It is her job, and that of other professionals in Iron County to ask the right questions of young people.

“We need to better prepare parents, teachers, and those adults who play a major role in a young person’s life – to help them tackle and respond to a mix of mental-health (at risk) issues.

One of those approaches notes Baxley is known as QPR, an innovative training program that calls for adults and (peer youth) to:  Question, Persuade and Refer.

“Basically, it is a form of being able to perform (mental health) CPR, says Baxley, “or applying the Heimlich method in a choking emergency.”  According to mental health experts, the right application of QPR methods can literally save a life.  “It’s all about helping someone who may be considering suicide, to ‘ask (them) the right) questions, and save a life.’”

According to Baxley, increasing data shows what the issues are, who are most impacted, the number and type of reported incidents, what factors are at work, and what education or community response needs to occur.

For example, a recent community health needs assessment (completed by Intermountain Healthcare) identified depression and suicide as dual concerns across the State of Utah.  With suicide being the leading cause of death among youth, ages 10 to 17 years old – it’s also listed as the 8th leading cause of death overall in the state.

One of those risk factors is (open) access to guns kept in the home.

Baxley points out that mental-health related issues and data have led law enforcement, schools and social service professionals along with health care agencies to respond in immediate ways.

“We know that gun-access in the home is an issue, so police departments have offered gun locks for parents (at no cost).”

She says that more community groups have come together on these issues.

“We have a Hope Squad recently formed at Cedar Middle School… It’s basically an awareness and prevention program that encourages (peer-nominated students) to be good listeners while providing them with (QPR) skills training.” They essentially become the eyes and ears of the school.

According to Baxley, this kind of outreach and QPR training (by the Southwest Prevention Coalition) will soon be put into place at all of the secondary schools in the  School District.  That said, Baxley is hopeful about how the Iron County community has pooled their talents, time and resources.

“I have to say, I’m optimistic about how our agencies have come to the table. There are professionals, agencies and parents that meet monthly to look at ways to reduce substance abuse, or to look at how to better educate adults,” says Baxley of her background in youth development.

“But there are risk factors we need to look at too.”

For more information go to cedarcitymh.com; the Southwest Center, (435-867-7654); Suicide Prevention Hotline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or download the SafeUT app; Utah Suicide Prevention.org (coalition).

Part II

In our next report, health professionals, law enforcement, educators, and parents are being introduced to the issues surrounding mental health, substance abuse, and how QPR training and Hope Squads can tackle teen depression and the risk of suicide among Utah youth.


Caption:  Heidi Baxley, Prevention Specialist at Southwest Behavioral Health Center, is optimistic about the Iron County community and the effort to address mental health issues and at-risk-factors among youth.

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