Utah’s Adolescent Suicide Crisis Highlights Need for Effective Mental Health Services

Utah is currently in the midst of an adolescent suicide crisis.

The annual suicide rate among young people ages 12 to 17 in Utah has risen every year since 2011, and increased by more than 200% between 2006 and 2014, the most recent year for which data is available. In 2013 and 2014, suicide was the leading annual cause of non-accidental death for adolescents in Utah. 2015 Prevention Needs Assessment data shows that Salt Lake County and Tooele County Health District students had much higher rates of psychological distress when compared to the state.

To put these statistics in context:

  • In 2006, the adolescent suicide rate in Utah was 2.87 per 100,000 people
  • In 2014, the adolescent suicide rate in Utah was 6.83 per 100,000 people
  • Over the same time period, the national adolescent suicide rate rose from 2.18 to 2.75 per 100,000 people

According to an October 8, 2016 Tribune News Service article, local and state officials have joined with experts throughout Utah to identify causes and develop solutions for the dramatic increase in adolescent suicide.

Though they have not reached any firm conclusions, experts have identified a variety of factors that they believe could be contributing to the Utah’s adolescent suicide problem:

  • Access to weapons – Almost half of all adolescents who commit suicide in Utah used a firearm.
  • Lack of access to mental health services – A July 5 article on the website of Salt Lake City’s KUTV described Utah as being “woefully understaffed” in terms of mental health programs and professionals who can care for teens in crisis.
  • Substandard support for LGBT teens – Teens who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender are at increased risk for suicide throughout the nation. In Utah, experts have noted that religious pressures can make it less likely that LGBT teens will receive the support that they need.

One adolescent suicide-prevention effort that is already underway focuses on preparing adults who work with young people to recognize suicide warning signs. For the past three years Utah has required teachers to complete suicide prevention training. State leaders have also encouraged parents, coaches, and others who are closely involved with young people to complete similar training.

Of course, the effort to prevent young people from ending their own lives is a complex endeavor that ideally should begin long before the young person shows signs of actively considering or attempting suicide. For example, data collected by the Utah Department of Health shows how many of the state’s young people are struggling with what could be termed pre-suicidal” concerns:

  • 24.8% of Utah students told researchers they felt sad or hopeless.
  • 16.6% of Utah students told researchers they seriously considered attempting suicide.
  • 13.5% of Utah students said they made a suicide plan.
  • 7.6% of Utah students said they have attempted suicide.

Virtually every adolescent will have periods of sadness or will experience moments of despondency. But when these feelings fail to dissipate, they may be symptomatic of depression or another type of mental health disorder. In such cases, effective professional care can be the difference between a temporary emotional setback and a life-threatening problem.

If a young person in your life has been experiencing pervasive sadness or a sense of inescapable hopelessness, or has been showing any signs that he or she may be considering suicide, the time to act is now. Once you have taken all necessary steps to ensure that the young person is not in immediate danger, make arrangements for him or her to receive a thorough assessment that can identify any ongoing risks and guide the development of an optimal treatment plan.

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