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Doing more to prevent youth suicide

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment declared that 2009 marked Colorado’s highest suicide rate in more than 20 years across all age groups.

Colorado has an annual suicide rate that is 40 percent higher than the U.S. average. More people die in Colorado as a result of suicide than are killed in motor vehicle accidents. The Safe2Tell reporting line has also experienced an increase in calls regarding suicide concerns and requests for training after a suicide of a youth in Colorado communities.

Awareness training for middle school- and high school-aged youth can lead to increased recognition of warning signs. It can also be effective in breaking the code of silence by encouraging youth to seek help for their friends.

Parents must be able to recognize signs of depressed or suicidal behavior to help their own children. Some helpful programs exist to assist with these types of trainings. For starters, check out Resources for Suicide Prevention and Intervention-A Guide for Schools compiled by the Colorado School Safety Resource Center.

Youth suicide warning signs

  • Suicide ideation
  • Substance abuse
  • Sense of purposelessness
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling trapped
  • Hopelessness
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Anger
  • Reckless behavior
  • Mood changes

What all adults can do better

  • Listen to youth
  • Ask about suicidal thoughts, if concerns warrant
  • Take concerns seriously
  • Seek appropriate help for youth in crisis
  • Schools, communities, and parents must all work together to respond to this concern for our youth
  • All school staff can benefit from training in the recognition of warning signs and the need to report concerns in a timely manner
  • Collaborate with community agencies and providers to determine the best available resources for crisis intervention outside of the school

What schools can do better

The 2009 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, completed by a representative sample of high school students in grades ninth through 12th, revealed that about a quarter of high school students reported feeling so sad or hopeless almost every day for two or more consecutive weeks that they stopped doing some of their usual activities during the past 12 months.

Nearly 14 percent of these Colorado students indicated they had seriously considered attempting suicide in the past 12 months. Approximately 7.6 percent reported attempting suicide one or more times during the past 12 months. In addition, recent news stories have highlighted incidents from other parts of the country where bullying and harassment have been associated with suicide in K-12 schools and colleges.

All school personnel who work with youth should be familiar with risk factors and warning signs for youth suicide, and know what to do if warning signs show up.

Suicidal risk factors for youth

  • Mental health disorders
  • Family history of suicide
  • Previous suicide attempt
  • History of trauma or abuse
  • Relationship or social loss
  • Easy access to lethal means
  • Lack of social support and sense of isolation
  • Exposure to, including through the media, and influence of others who have died by suicide
  • Barriers to healthcare

Additional information

A joint publication of the Colorado School Safety Resource Center, Colorado Department of Public Safety and The Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence, University of Colorado-Boulder

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