For a state that prides itself on devotion to family, Utahns are neglecting its youths. For some reason yet to be determined, our youths are in pain. And that pain is more than teenage angst. A lot more.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a report finding that youth suicide in Utah is increasing nearly four times faster than the national average. In fact, Luke Ramseth from the Salt Lake Tribune reported that “the state’s suicide rate among young adults ages 10 to 17 had more than doubled from 2011 to 2015.” During that time period, 150 youths died by their own hand.
Those are preventable deaths. We just need to determine how to prevent them.
Some advocates often claim that much of Utah’s high youth suicide rate is attributable to gay and lesbian youths, especially those who are members of Utah’s prominent church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But the data don’t bear that out, yet. They also don’t disprove it.
For 40 individuals where sexual orientation could be determined, six identified as gay or lesbian. But a 40-person sample size is too small to draw many conclusions. State officials suggest that schools and communities should provide more opportunities for gay and lesbian youths to meet and talk together.
Interestingly, the report did find that restricting access to electronics — taking away cellphones and tablets — played a part in at least some of the deaths reported. A research coordinator with the Utah Office of the Medical Examiner noted that teenage rates of depression increased after teens got access to smartphones. But as most parents know, now that phones are commonplace, it would be almost impossible to put that genie back in the bottle. Even many teachers require that students use phones in the classroom to look up information quickly. It’s a new world.
The state school board has been promoting an electronic app called SafeUT for a few years now. The app connects students to mental professionals. But there are things parents can do, too. Health officials suggest parents should be proactive in monitoring their children’s electronic accounts for bullying or other inappropriate content. Parents should also model responsible device usage around their children. Most doctors and researchers agree that phones should be put away at the dinner table and other family activities where personal interaction is more important.
To their credit, state health officials asked for help from the CDC in January. They recognized that Utah’s consistent problem was growing. The CDC’s study concluded that Utah has a problem, and should focus on suicide prevention, including preventing access to firearms, providing mental health care, teaching coping skills, promoting connectedness and strengthening family relationships.
Our youths’ lives depend on it.