By Alan Cochrane, LCMHC, Youth Services Clinician
Suicide is the second leading cause of death in Utah for young people ages 10-17. Utah ranks 5th in the nation for youth suicide deaths. There is a suicide in Utah every 16 hours. The statistics are beyond alarming. The answers to why this is the case is nebulous. Luckily, we know how to prevent suicide. It’s getting young people the help they need, when they need it.
We know the risk factors:
• Previous suicide attempt or suicidal behavior.
• Mental disorders (particularly depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia).
• Feelings of hopelessness.
• Relational, social, work, or financial loss.
• Easy access to firearms.
• Unwillingness to seek help (e.g., stigma attached to mental and substance abuse disorders).
• Influence of significant people (family members, celebrities, peers) who have died by suicide.
• Social isolation.
• Family violence, including physical or sexual abuse.
• Family history of suicide.
• Situational crisis (loss, gender identity conflict/LGBTQ issues, disciplinary crisis (family, school, law), family crisis, running away, lock-up situation).
Suicide and suicidal behavior are not normal responses to stress. Many people have one or more risk factors and are not suicidal. No one warning signal is conclusive proof of suicidal potential. In fact, many of the warning signs may be found in the lives of most teenagers at one time or another.
Suicidal warning signals:
• Sudden academic decline.
• Physical deterioration of personal appearance.
• Social withdrawal.
• Breakup with boy/girlfriend.
• Deep and prolonged depression.
• Statements about wanting to die.
• Sudden changes in personality and mood.
• Mental health problems, pregnancy, parental loss, sexual identity issues.
Fortunately, Salt Lake County Division of Youth Services has highly trained and knowledgeable therapists who can take the guess work out of suicidal risk. Our Juvenile Receiving Center is open 24/7/365 and can be reached at 385-468-4470. Ongoing individual/family counseling appointments with licensed therapists are readily available. Also, University of Utah Health Care/University Neuropsychiatric Institute (UNI) Mobile Crisis Outreach Team may be called at 801-587-3000. Immediate help is also available 24/7/365 at the Suicide Prevention Lifeline Phone Number 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Always error on the side of safety. Never second guess. Don’t hesitate. Even if you remotely suspect suicidal ideation, make the call. You can save a life!