A Community Problem
The call came around 2 a.m. from a close friend. I had been asleep for a long time but I jumped up quickly and answered the phone. I knew instantly that something was wrong as she sobbed uncontrollably on the other end of the line. She didn't know who else to call at that hour and I had once told her to call me anytime, anywhere, if she every needed a friend. They had just found her teenage brother dead, a victim of suicide. But I didn't know what to do or what to say as I listened to the girl's story. I didn't know her brother but I did know his story and how he had struggled to get off drugs. According to his sister he had been doing so well and had been clean for several months. But the note that he left said his girl friend had ended their relationship and the 17-year old decided it wasn't worth it any longer.
Teen suicide is one of those things people only whisper about. Schools choose not to discuss it for fear it might spread like a vicious bacteria. Victim's friend's talk quietly among themselves while community members question what could have gone arrie. And parents simply don't understand what they did wrong, and punish themselves for not realizing what it was.
A group of concerned local officials are banding together in an attempt to stem the tide of local teen suicides that seem to rock our local communities once or twice every year, when some of our brightest stars snuff out their own lives. Meanwhile most of us try to understand why, and more importantly, try to prevent it from happening again.
Recent studies show Utah has the fifth highest suicide rate in the nation and southeastern Utah (Carbon, Emery, Grand and San Juan counties) have some of the highest rates in the state. A few statistics help us understand who is involved in this dark practice..
In the U.S., suicide is the eighth leading cause of death for all individuals, but more importantly, it is the third leading cause of death for adolescents ages 15-24. In fact, more teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza and chronic lung disease combined.
Surveys indicate 80 to 90 percent of those attempting suicide are female, but over 80 percent of those successful in their attempt are male.
The most common mental diagnoses of those committing suicide are depression, substance abuse and conduct problems.
Those that commit suicide often have suffered a recent loss or disciplinary crisis. Mental health officials point out, however, that these events are common in a normal adolescent's life, yet something causes a certain amount of young people to end it all rather that persevere through it.
A recent study conducted on suicide victims in Utah adds additional light to their past experiences.
39 percent had divorced parents and percent had parents who had divorced in the preceding six months.
65 percent of their parents had reported their child had a psychiatric disorder, yet only 15 percent were seeing a mental health professional.
According to parents, 20 percent of those that commit suicide were prescribed antidepressants, yet no medications were found in their blood levels. Usually, even sub-therapeutic levels of these medications would be detected.
63 percent of parents noticed remarkable behavioral and social changes before the incident.
16 percent reported a decline in their grade point averages at school.
45 percent noticed changes among those who the victim began associating before the incident. Those changes often included a group of friends who were involved in drugs or alcohol.
Over 10 percent of families failed to recognize the suicide as the cause of death, preferring to label it an accident.
In addition several barriers were reported by parents for victims failing to obtain help.
79 percent believed that nothing could help the victim.
78 percent indicated the victim believed seeking help was a sign of weakness.
74 percent believed the victim was reluctant to admit to having problems.
69 percent believed that the victim was too embarrassed to seek help
67 percent believed that the victim denied his or her problem existed.
Coincidentally, the same identical five barriers were reported in the group victims' siblings and friends.
Parents and others should know the signs of an impending suicide. They commonly include the following.
Talking about suicide.
Statements about hopelessness, helplessness, or worthlessness.
Preoccupation with death.
Suddenly happier and calmer when circumstances seemed to not have changed..
Loss of interest in things one cares about.
Unusual visits to or calling people one cares about.
Making arrangements or setting affairs in order.
Giving things away.
Something needs to be done about the rate of teenage suicide in the area.Four Corner's Mental Health, along with Frontier Project, are attempting to do just that and are sponsoring a conference concerning suicide on March 26. The conference will target local teenagers and their parents along with all educators and officials.
More details will be printed in the Sun Advocate when they are available.