Juvenile Mental Health (copy)

JERILEE BENNETT, THE GAZETTE During “Light the Dark,” a suicide prevention event held on April 5 at Woodmen Valley Chapel’s Woodmen Heights Campus in Colorado Springs, parents and other adults lined a street with signs of affirmation and hope for teens. Suicide remains the leading cause of death for children ages 10-18 in Colorado, according to state data.

Here’s the terrible news: Teen suicide rates are soaring throughout the country. Here’s even worse news: Colorado leads the trend.

Now, the good news: We can reduce teen suicide by addressing the crisis directly, as seen in metropolitan Colorado Springs.

The United Health Foundation released a report last week that found a startling rise in teen suicides. From 2016 through 2018, the national teen suicide rate rose by 25% for adolescents ages 15-19. That’s an increase of 8.4 to 10.5 deaths by suicide for every 100,000 people in that age group.

El Paso County's decrease in teen suicide bucks Colorado, US trends

Colorado led the trend with a whopping 58% increase in teen suicides — more than double the troublesome national increase.

Our No. 1 ranking for teen suicides should be nothing less than a crisis to the political class, and leadership of businesses, communities, religious institutions, schools and nonprofits.

Stop, for the moment, this fixation with climate change and flashy battery cars. Instead, kick off the next legislative session with a focus on young people in states of emotional turmoil so severe they are willing to end their lives.

While we probably cannot stop the climate’s historical propensity to change, we can quickly alter the teen suicide trajectory. Just look to Colorado Springs and the rest of El Paso County to see how it can be done. It involves a warmer, kinder, more caring social climate.

At the same time, Colorado’s teen suicide rate went off the charts, community leaders throughout the Colorado Springs metro area worked together to address the dilemma. They decided to look for at-risk young people and offer them help.

After the county organized a suicide-prevention workgroup, we saw teachers, parents, friends and clergy learn to look for signs of mental distress in time for life-saving interventions.

The result: A 46.7% decrease in the teen suicide rate as the rest of the state increased by 58%. That, despite the fact metro Colorado Springs makes up more than 10% of the state’s population.

“I like to think we’re seeing a reduction in the rate because of how the community has aligned in the past few years,” said Meghan Haynes, the county’s teen suicide prevention planner, as quoted in a news story by Gazette reporter Debbie Kelley.

Haynes explained how 160 youth pastors and other faith leaders obtained youth mental health first aid training as one part of an overall effort to reduce teen suicide. The program teaches pastors how to talk with troubled youths, assess their conditions and get the appropriate professional help.

We can reduce and, God willing, stop teen suicides by paying more loving and caring attention to the adolescents in our families, churches, schools and social circles.

Young people who are bullied, overstressed, sad, lonely or otherwise distressed need attention from someone who cares. Don’t look the other way. Get involved and save a life.

Knock Colorado off the top of that disturbing list by making children our highest concern. Let’s race to the bottom of the suicide list, using every best practice we can find.

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