Lawmakers file more than a dozen mental health bills so far this session

643 people died by suicide in Utah in 2021, ranking the state as having the 14th highest rate of suicide in the United States. That’s according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This statistic has drawn the attention of state lawmakers.

Not included in that number is the body authorities reported finding Wednesday in American Fork Canyon, believed to be that of McKenna Miner, who went missing a few days prior. The Utah County Sheriff’s Office said the cause of death appears to be suicide.

The Utah legislature has responded to these concerning statistics by introducing a series of mental health bills over the last few years.

Among the advocates for these legislative changes is Joe Tuia’ana, founder of the “I Love You Bro” Project.

Tuia’ana’s life took a turn two years ago when he prevented someone from jumping off an overpass. Since then, he has been actively involved in mental health advocacy, focusing on helping men and fathers.

His non-profit has been conducting sessions for the last five months, aiming to combat stigma and educate the community.

Tuia’ana also played a crucial role in helping the state create the “Live On Utah” suicide prevention campaign, which has reached over 125,000 people. He continues to advocate for law changes to improve mental health support.

“It’s a huge part of my life and so I’m constantly speaking out especially when it comes to stigma and educating the community” Tuia’ana said.

State Rep. Nelson Abbott (R – Utah County) has been a vocal supporter of mental health legislation.

“Every time we pass any mental health bill up here, it shows that we believe it’s important” Abbott said, emphasizing the importance of these bills.

This legislative session has seen the filing of at least 12 mental health bills, ranging from student resources and a pilot program for antidepressants to other bills focused on first responders’ mental health services and firearm reporting requirements.

Rep. Abbott filed a bill that aims to provide treatment to defendants of crimes before sentencing. He said it’s a critical issue in Utah, expressing a commitment to improving lives and making mental health support more accessible.

“Sometimes it’s difficult to navigate that and we’re trying to improve that so it’s not so difficult to get help” Abbott said.

The legislative session ends Mar. 1.

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