Suicide Among Utah Girls and Women

Suicide is a serious, evolving, and complex public health issue that negatively impacts individuals, families, and communities across Utah, the nation, and the world. Suicide can have lasting and harmful effects on everyone touched in some way, and it carries high economic and human costs. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that the US loses almost $70 billion annually as a result of suicide attempts and suicides due to medical and work-loss-related costs. 

Although men are more at risk of dying by suicide than women, suicidal behavior is also a concern for girls and women. Aligned with the Utah Women & Leadership Project’s (UWLP) mission—to strengthen the impact of Utah girls and women—understanding gender-related risks of suicide is essential to decrease suicide in Utah and better protect the girls and women. Our hope is that this report will help raise awareness of this serious issue and offer recommendations that can empower more Utah girls and women to live fulfilling and productive lives. This research snapshot focuses on general suicide risk factors, specific risk factors for girls and women (including demographics), particular risk factors for Utah, and recommendations for what Utahns can do. 

General Risk Factors 

Suicide is defined as death resulting from intentionally using force against oneself. For every death caused by suicide, there are 25 suicide attempts, and even more people who are seriously considering suicide. Suicide often occurs as a process starting with suicidal ideation and ending with death by suicide. It is difficult to predict who will attempt or die by suicide. Risk factors are complicated and can vary by sex, age group, culture, and other characteristics. Suicide risk factors include previous suicide attempts, social isolation, financial problems, job problems or loss, impulsive or aggressive tendencies, serious illness, criminal or legal problems, mental illness, substance use disorders, adverse childhood experiences, family history of suicide, relationship problems, sexual violence, easy access to lethal means, bullying, unsafe media portrayals of suicide, a suicide cluster within a community, cultural and religious beliefs, barriers to health care, and the stigma associated with mental illness or help-seeking. 

Specific Risk Factors for Girls & Women 

Although additional research needs to be completed in these areas, this section shares key findings in seven subject areas: 

  • Suicide Attempts vs. Deaths: Although men typically have a higher risk of dying by suicide, women are more likely to attempt suicide, a phenomenon known as the “gender paradox” of suicidal behavior. 
  • Eating Disorders: Eating disorders more often occur in women than men and are linked with suicidal behavior. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in those with anorexia, which occurs three times more in women than men and is estimated to increase the risk of suicide 50-fold. 
  • Hormonal Fluctuations: Women are more susceptible to mental illness during times of hormone fluctuations, including puberty, pregnancy, menstrual cycle changes, and menopause. Nonfatal suicidal behavior is associated with neurobiological sensitivity to hormone changes across the menstrual cycle. 
  • Pregnancy, Fetal Loss, and Fertility Problems: Pregnancy has typically been found to have a protective effect against suicide. However, this protective effect may be reduced in pregnancies that end in stillbirth or miscarriage or if the pregnancy is unwanted. 
  • Mental Health: Serious mental illness rates are higher among females (7.0%) than males (4.2%), and the rates are also associated with suicide. 
  • Sexual Abuse and Childhood Adversities: Physical, emotional, and sexual abuse can lead to a substantially higher risk for suicide in women. Childhood sexual abuse is more common in girls than in boys, and sexual abuse increases vulnerability to subsequent psychopathology and adverse life events, which are associated with the risk of suicidal behavior. 
  • Marital Status and Intimate Partner Violence: In general, marriage is a protective factor against suicide. However, marriage may be less protective against suicide for women than men, especially for those who marry young, are economically dependent on their partner, or have low socioeconomic status. One of the most significant risk factors in suicide for women is intimate partner violence.

Specific Risk Factors for Utah 

Suicide is a significant public health problem that is considered preventable. The Utah suicide rate is consistently higher than the national rate and suicide was the eighth leading cause of death for Utahns in 2020. Overall, although many risk factors impact individuals from across the US, some specific risk factors for Utah include the following: 

  • Domestic Violence and Dating Issues: Domestic violence and intimate partner violence increase a woman’s risk of suicide. 
  • Religion: When individuals feel they are a part of a community, it can create a sense of belonging and connectedness which can serve as a protective factor against suicide. However, when individuals do not feel they are part of the religious community or when the religious community rejects those individuals, harmful effects can arise. 
  • LGBTQIA+ Identifying Populations: LGBTQ+ youth and adults experience a significantly higher risk for suicidal behavior than heterosexual adults. 
  • Opioid Epidemic and Substance Use: On average, 323 people die in Utah each year from an accidental prescription opioid drug overdose, 156 from a heroin overdose, and 88 from a synthetic opioid overdose. 

What Utahns Can Do 

Below are some recommendations Utahns can take to decrease suicidal behavior among girls and women: 

  • Avoid normalizing or glamorizing suicide and emphasize that many individuals who have contemplated or attempted suicide have gone on to live healthy, normal lives.  
  • Create preventative messaging around suicide that promotes hope and healing through empathy, warmth, and inclusivity while avoiding negative language, judgments, and stereotypes.  
  • Educate the community on gender-related risk factors and prevention strategies and teach how to respond in appropriate and helpful ways.  
  • 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 in Utah, including the Suicide Prevention Coalition, Live On campaign, and Crisis Lines.  
  • Increase resources to those who have attempted suicide or are contemplating suicide to reduce suicidality and increase the health and well-being of more vulnerable communities.  
  • Increase the connectedness of girls and women in Utah through encouraging healthy social connections, meaningful supportive relationships, and inclusion in all its forms.  
  • Prioritize suicide prevention and mental health programs; ensure these important programs are extensively publicized, funded, and utilized.  
  • Proactively teach coping skills, problem-solving strategies, communication, and resilience training.  
  • Promote education, economic security, and empowerment of women as an integral part of suicide prevention strategies.  
  • Provide gender-appropriate, caring, and evidence-based interventions.  
  • Provide proactive support and resources for those girls and women most at risk and their families.  
  • Provide social support networks, especially for those girls and women in Utah most at risk. 
  • Provide young women with detailed information about hormone changes across a lifespan as well as support for postpartum psychosis and other challenges associated with having children.  
  • Reduce stigma around suicidality and mental health issues and normalize seeking help. 

Conclusion 

Although many risk factors for suicide may impact people of all genders, some specific risk factors for girls and women should also be acknowledged and explored. 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. Through promoting acceptance, respect, healing, and recovery, women in Utah most at risk for suicide can recover and live whole, healthy, and productive lives. 

To learn more about suicide among Utah girls and women, read the full snapshot

Check out some of our other posts

September 2022 Newsletter

The September 2022 Newsletter for the Utah Women & Leadership Project highlights new resources released, editorials, and announcements about women's groups and partnerships.

Suicide Among Utah Girls and Women

Suicide is a serious, evolving, and complex public health issue that negatively impacts individuals, families, and communities across Utah, the nation, and the world. Suicide can have lasting and harmful effects on everyone touched in some way, and it car...