According to the Deseret News (Nov. 27) Utah’s youth suicide rate jumped 141 percent in Utah between 2011 and 2015. Recent years are feared to be higher. Some advocates of LGBTQ youth have been pointing to policies from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as one possible reason behind the uptick in suicides. We simply do not have the data, however, to back that up.
At the same time, many studies across the U.S. have shown that religious affiliation and regular church attendance are a protective factor and contribute to better mental health outcomes among youth. Utah has the highest rate of religious affiliation and regular church attendance in the country. Yet we have the fifth-highest rate of suicide across all ages in the country. This contradiction illustrates this fact: The risks and protective factors involved in suicide are various and complex. We need extensive research, leaving no stone unturned, if we are to adequately address this tragic epidemic.
In 2015, a question was added to the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance survey which asked students about sexual orientation in order to better understand the extent of risks which LGBTQ students faced both in terms of physical safety and mental health outcomes.
So how did Utah’s youth fare in comparison to national statistics? We have no idea.
In 2015, Utah opted out of asking youth about their sexual orientation so this data could not be assessed in the YRBS. More recently, the CDC visited Utah to investigate the climbing suicide numbers, and the agency specifically recommended that the state "improve surveillance for a variety of topics, including sexual orientation" to help spot trends in what officials have labeled an epidemic. But officials in the Davis and Cache County school districts threatened to not administer the survey at all if the question about sexual orientation was included. Without at least 60 percent student participation statewide, YRBS data for the state would be statistically invalid. The question was, again, dropped.
When our fear of collecting data about sexual orientation takes precedence over examining all possible reasons for a tragically high youth suicide rate, our misplaced fears will blind us to possible solutions and could lead to further tragedy.