About one-fourth of Utah teens have seriously contemplated suicide, a survey shows, prompting state specialists to consider addressing the issue in curriculum.
"We're putting a whole component about that in our secondary health core," said Jacqueline Morasco-EngTow, state curriculum specialist in HIV and AIDS education, in presenting the 1997 Utah Youth Risk Behavior survey to a State Board of Education committee.The survey, conducted on odd-numbered years in different student populations, is aimed at achieving data to gauge student behaviors. It is used partly to show changes needed in the health curriculum for secondary school students.
Commissioned by the division of Adolescent and School Health of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and conducted by the University of Utah, the survey includes responses of about 1,400 Utah high school students from 22 schools. Individual district or school results were not compiled because the questionnaire was anonymous and voluntary.
"This report provides a summary that will hopefully stimulate discussion among educators, parents and youth throughout Utah," the report states.
Suicide claims 20.5 of every 100,000 Utahns age 15-24, making it the second-leading cause of death in that age group. Nationally, suicide is the third-leading cause of death for that age group. Motor vehicle fatalities are the leading cause of death in the age group.
In other findings, about one-fifth of Utah respondents said they carried a weapon at least once in the past 30 days, compared to the same percentage nationally.
While the figure partly can be explained by hunting or rural life, its seriousness cannot be dismissed, as 11 percent of Utah students reported carrying a weapon on school property at least one day in the past 30, said Margaret Rose, health curriculum specialist. Nationally, 9.8 percent carried a weapon on school property.
"That is significant," Rose said.
Toting weapons, fake or real, on school property is a violation of the federal Safe Schools Act. In recent weeks, an Alta High student had a semiautomatic rifle in his car parked in the school parking lot. He was expelled.
Students in Utah are increasingly stating they have tried marijuana, with 25 percent in 1997 as compared with 16 percent in 1993. Still, those numbers are below the national average of 42 percent saying they had tried the drug.
On the brighter side, just 41 percent of Utah students tried alcohol, compared with 76 percent nationally, numbers Morasco-EngTow called phenomenal.
Seatbelt use also is up from 51 percent in 1991 to 67 percent in 1997. And more than half of respondents said their physical weight was about right.
Ninety-one percent of Utah student feel they are being educated about AIDS prevention, up from 81 percent in 1993.
"I assume that most young people know what risky behaviors are," Morasco-EngTow said.
Yet 18 percent said they had put themselves at risk for HIV contraction. Respondents were not asked about sexual behaviors.
Nationally, 86 percent of sexually transmitted diseases are found in 15- to 29-year-olds; one in five AIDS diagnoses are among 20- to 29-year-olds, said Morasco-EngTow said. But considering the HIV incubation period of up to 10 years, those numbers indicate the virus was contracted in the teenage years.