One Way To Address Suicide Among Park City's Service Workers? Talk About It.

Jul 19, 2019

Historic Park City Alliance President John Kenworthy invited Summit County Communities that Care Coordinator Mary Christa Smith to a recent HPCA meeting to talk about the importance of, well, talking—about mental health among Main Street employees. 

Flanagan’s owner John Kenworthy says until recently, the only way to address mental health issues in Summit County was by checking yourself into the jail. Now, the area has many support services, and Kenworthy says it’s time the community gets comfortable having a conversation about mental health.

“The stigma of suicide is probably the most difficult hurdle to get over," Kenworthy said. "On Main Street, we've had two suicides in the last month in the food and beverage industry—it happens all the time, and it never gets talked about.”

Summit County Communities that Care Coordinator Mary Christa Smith says employees in the hospitality and restaurant industries are at particular risk of suicide, due to a number of factors. They’re often younger and have just moved away from home and a support system; there’s a culture of substance use among service workers; and those jobs don’t always provide economic stability or health insurance. On top of that, service jobs are stressful.

“As anyone who’s ever waited tables or bartended or worked in the resort industry in general knows, it can just be an incredibly stressful kind of work," Smith said. "So, all of those things come together in a way that really puts that group of folks at higher risk.”

Smith offered to host QPR trainings, or question, persuade, refer, for Old Town employers and their staffs. Basically, the training helps people identify suicidal crisis indicators and equips them with how to help when they see them.

“When people have someone who recognizes those signs, and takes the time and the care to ask them the question if they’re considering suicide," Smith said, "and to show that love and connection and get them connected with resources that can help them, it does save lives.”

Kenworthy says a Flanagan’s employee died by suicide last year. Staff wasn’t equipped to know the warning signs or what to do about it.

“Personally, we had a doorman last year that committed suicide, and he came in at 10:30 at night, and he sat across the bar, and he said strange things to a lot of the employees who were there," Kenworthy said. "We didn't know enough to say, 'hey, what's going on in your head, let's talk about it, we're here for you.'”

The National Institute of Mental Health reports nearly one in five adults in the U.S. live with some form of mental illness. For anyone who needs support, Smith recommends the SafeUT app, which connects people directly and in real time with a mental health care provider at the University of Utah. The Christian Center of Park City and Jewish Family Service provide counseling on a sliding fee scale; and Vail Resort employees also receive six free mental health counseling sessions through Vail’s Epic Wellness program. More local services are listed under the mental health resource directory at connectsummitcounty.org.