Area not immune from teen suicide epidemic |

Area not immune from teen suicide epidemic

Pat Callahan

Each year, thousands of teenagers die as a result of suicide and Moffat County is not exempt from what has become an ever-increasing national epidemic.

Barbara Seed, the program director at Craig Mental Health, said there were eight suicide attempts by Moffat County teenagers last year. Three more threatened suicide.

“It’s a huge problem in our community,” Seed said. “And I don’t think we really know why. There is no one reason.”

Marilyn Bouldin, the Visiting Nurse Association’s director of community health, agreed.

“I don’t think it’s any one reason,” Bouldin said. “It’s a multitude of factors, and depends on the circumstance. I think the biggest factor is depression, which often goes unnoticed and untreated.”

Overall, 30 Moffat County residents attempted suicide in 2001, and three died.

Seed said western states in general have higher teen suicide rates.

According to a U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration report (SAMHSA), young people who resided in the West were 14 percent more likely to be at risk for suicide than those who lived in the Midwest or Northeast.

The same report noted the risk was similar for young people regardless of whether they were from large metropolitan areas or rural communities.

The Rocky Mountain Region has the highest suicide rate in the country, and in 1998, the last year a national comparison had been conducted, Colorado had the 12th highest suicide rate in the nation, according to the Craig Mental Health Center.

Nationally, suicide ranks as the third leading cause of death for young people.

For ages 15-19, suicide is the second leading cause of death.

Eleven people between the ages of 15 and 24 commit suicide each day.

According to the SAMHSA report, which found that three million U.S. teenagers had contemplated suicide, more than 13 percent of young Americans between ages 14 and 17 considered suicide in 2000. More than a third of those in the 12 -17 age bracket said they attempted suicide. Of those, only 36 percent received any mental health treatment or counseling.

Seed said part of problem might lie in not knowing what the potential signs for suicide are.

“It’s possible that it is missed in just not knowing what to look for,” Seed said. “It’s easy afterwards to say, ‘I should have realized that.’ And that is why education is so important. Suicides do occur without warning, but not very often. There are usually signs.”

In an effort to help educate and prevent suicide in Moffat County, a community group called Suicide Awareness: Facing the Enemy (S.A.F.E) was established.

The group’s members include mental health professionals, law enforcement officers, hospital professionals, school personnel, teenagers and clergy. The organization delivers presentations within the community, with the main message being that suicide is preventable.

Bouldin, who co-chairs the S.A.F.E. program with Seed, said the organization has developed a regional data sheet, sponsored the Yellow Ribbon Campaign, and created a suicide survivor group, which all addressed specific needs in the community.

The Yellow Ribbon Campaign included a speaker and presentation at the high school and middle school, which centered on where young people can go for help.

Seed said when dealing with someone who is suicidal it is important to remember they are typically ambivalent about suicide, which presents the opportunity to prevent it, and get the person help.

“They want to end their emotional pain, and death is often the only avenue they can think of,” Seed said. “But suicidal thinking typically comes out of depression, and depression is very treatable. In most cases, suicide is preventable.”

Seed said parents and friends should look for these suicidal signs in teens:

A lack of interest in activities that a child has normally found to be fun.

A dramatic shift in school performance.

Social isolation.

Change in appetite.

Problems with sleeping habits.

Dramatic mood swings.

Seed said it is crucial to talk to people if they are showing suicidal signs.

“It’s very important to talk to these people,” Seed said. “Don’t hesitate to ask if a person is considering suicide. It won’t plant the idea.

“And stay with them.”

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