State health officials recently reported an alarming increase in rates of suicide among teenagers in Utah, to the point that it is now the leading cause of death among children 10 to 17. The exact reasons for the increase are not entirely clear, but there is a great deal of informed speculation taking place about what is clearly a community problem of tragic proportions. We are seeing a growing level of public awareness as well as a willingness to discuss the issue openly and candidly and move toward finding solutions.
This is healthy and positive, particularly in the category of suicide rates among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth. Statistics would indicate that LGBT teens are four times more likely to engage in suicidal behavior, and potentially less likely to seek help. Various organizations are working to better understand the problem and identify ways to take action, including a new program called Operation Safety Net, which deserves credit for furthering a community dialogue about an issue that is highly sensitive and often difficult to speak of in policy circles, as well as in family settings.
The program is seeking outreach through social media to train volunteers to identify behavior that may signal suicidal tendencies and to engage in efforts to bring down the rate of suicide among a vulnerable population.
This initiative appears to be valuable on two fronts. First, it seeks to empower the community as a whole with the means to better address the issue in individual circumstances. Second, it serves to elevate the matter to a place of public discussion and awareness that is crucial to understanding and reversing the trend. It recognizes that children facing an array of anxieties that may lead them to contemplate taking their lives need a way to openly confront and come to terms with their problems.
The issue may be delicate and discomforting, but there is no debate over whether it is a problem of significant impact. Every day, four teenagers or young adults are treated for a suicide attempt in Utah. We now have the fifth-highest rate of teen suicide in the nation and a high rate of attempted suicide. A survey by the state health department indicated that 1 out of 7 children in grades eight, 10 or 12 have seriously considered suicide within the last year. These numbers are sobering, and they should constitute a call to action. There is no greater tragedy than the death of a young person by means that may have been prevented. And prevention begins with understanding, compassion and a willingness to talk openly about the things that can lead young people to a place of desperation and despair.
"Parents and families can provide healthy, constructive relationships and environments," the Deseret News has reported, "by expressing affection when they learn a child is gay or transgender, by supporting the child even if the news is uncomfortable and by being willing to talk about it."
As a resource for those in crisis or those helping someone else, the suicide prevention lifeline is available at all hours by calling 1-800-273-TALK.