Suicide among young people in Utah, especially those 9 to 21 years old, is increasing, a Utah State University professor told members of the media this week.
Kim Openshaw, associate professor of family and human development and psychology, said that in a study he and a colleague conducted, Utah ranked 14th in adolescent suicide in the nation.Traditionally, people have thought that the early teen years were the most vulnerable, Openshaw said. But that isn't necessarily the case.
Young adults are unable to cope with increased stress that comes with growing up, he said. They have problems fighting off peer pressure, making career decisions and thinking in terms of the future. He referred to the problem as pile-up.
Although the factors leading to teen suicide are complex and numerous, some factors are present in most suicides, Openshaw said. A family history of suicide or suicidal behavior is common to most suicides or attempted suicides, as is an inability to communicate between parents and children.
Drugs and/or alcohol are often involved in a suicide attempt. Openshaw said drugs and alcohol compound the impulsive inclinations of a teenager or young adult. Hesaid a person who commits suicide has often attempted suicide before.
Methods of preventing suicide are fairly random, he said. What may work with some teens may not work with others. Some people feel that eliminating handgunswould do away with suicide, but that isn't the case, Openshaw said. In England, where guns are difficult to get, many teenagers jump off high buildings to commit suicide.
All parents should watch for warning signs, he said.
Keeping communication channels open is a vital help in preventing suicide, he said. Sometimes, erratic behavior by a teenager can be more than just a "phase" he is going through. Helping a teenager develop necessary social skills can be helpful in prevention.
"These kids need to learn how to give and receive negative criticism, how to resist peer pressure such as suicide pacts and develop problem solving and negotiation skills," he said. "Self-esteem is the key."
Although drug and alcohol abuse can contribute to suicide, it is a serious problem by itself, said Tom Lee, USU extension specialist.
"While a lower percentage of Utah's adolescents have ever tried drugs, compared to national figures, a larger number of that group develop problems," he said.
A teen who ends up with a drug or alcohol problem usually comes from a family with a history of such problems, even if the individual has overcome the problem and is no longer abusing drugs or alcohol, Lee said.
Those teens usually start using drugs or alcohol at an early age.
Lee said several programs in the state are designed to teach families how to overcome or prevent drug and alcohol problems. "Family strength is one way of lowering the risks of adolescent substance abuse."
A program that Lee developed teaches families the skills they need to overcome their problems.
He said signs of a healthy family include:
A family that has fun together.
A family in which each person helps make decisions.
A family that each member is proud to be a part of.
A family that has the same ideal about what is important.
A family with open and clear communication.
A family that expresses positive feelings and appreciation for each other.
A family that believes in its ability to meet problems and solve them.