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In our opinion: Confronting and discussing suicide

Published: Wednesday, April 24 2013 3:20 p.m. MDT

One third of teenagers have had suicidal thoughts at some time in their lives, according to research. In Utah, 1 out of 50 teenagers will be treated medically for a suicide attempt. (Shutterstock) One third of teenagers have had suicidal thoughts at some time in their lives, according to research. In Utah, 1 out of 50 teenagers will be treated medically for a suicide attempt. (Shutterstock)

The subject of suicide is not easy to bring up in any kind of conversation, and that is a big part of the problem. It is the second-leading cause of death among teenagers and young adults in Utah, yet it garners less attention than many lesser threats to public health.

There is deep reluctance to confront a subject so sensitive, and complicated, but experts say open discussion of the factors that lead to a high suicide rate, especially among young people, is precisely what is necessary to bring that rate down.

Thursday night on KSL Television, a commercial-free broadcast will offer important information on how families may open the topic up for meaningful conversation — something experts say is an essential component to suicide prevention. The broadcast will air at 10 p.m., and the subject matter, while difficult, is relevant to all families.

One third of teenagers have had suicidal thoughts at some time in their lives, according to research. In Utah, 1 out of 50 teenagers will be treated medically for a suicide attempt. That equates to two attempts a day that are reported to health officials among kids ages 10 to 17. Three attempts each day require medical treatment among young adults ages 18-24, according to the Utah Health Department.

The numbers are proof the underlying factors that may lead a person to consider suicide are not rare or restricted to any class of society. Periods of despair, brought on by anxiety, stress or loneliness are not uncommon among even those who are mentally healthy. But experts say if they are not vanquished, they may linger in a dark corner until they infest a feeling of hopelessness, leading far too often to an attempt at a dramatic resolution.

The chain may be broken by opening a door to that corner and giving light to the feelings that young people are often afraid to divulge to parents or peers. Experts say in the majority of suicides and attempted suicides, behavioral symptoms and other warning signs exist that foreshadow the actual act.

Several recent high-profile suicides by young people prompted the Utah Legislature this year to pass two significant bills aimed at arresting a trend toward a suicide rate among youth that is substantially above the national average. One measure requires schools to notify parents of any suicide threats or incidents of bullying, a factor in many suicides. Another law will fund prevention programs in schools and create the position of suicide prevention coordinator in the state’s health department.

They are good laws, and necessary, but psychologists and social workers say the most effective point of intervention is not in schools or at health clinics, but at home. Parents must be comfortable in broaching the topic with their children, and the larger community must offer support and resources for families to take on such a delicate task.

That is the basis for the KSL special report, “Breaking the Silence on Suicide.” The program is a noteworthy effort to bring a difficult topic into the light of day, drawing in prominent Utahns, including Gov. Gary Herbert, to join the discussion. The aim is to offer information on ways parents can identify and confront a potential problem in a compassionate and sensitive manner. Sadly, the statistical reality is clear — it is a problem that might impact any family, at any time, in any segment of the community.

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company