Last Year’s Teen Suicide Spike in El Paso County Leads to New Prevention Tactics to Close Gaps | Premium


The alarming increase in the number of teenage suicide deaths last year in El Paso County has sparked a close examination of the situation and set in motion new prevention efforts by a community task force of 90 members. led by El Paso County Public Health.

“Suicide is a very complex problem,” Meghan Haynes of El Paso County Public Health told members of Colorado Springs City Council last week. “It’s hard to point out one thing. “

El Paso County recorded 15 suicide deaths of adolescents aged 11 to 17 in 2020, according to County Coroner Dr. Leon Kelly. It’s a tie for the record, first set in 2016. It is up from nine in 2019 and reversed a downward trend the county saw when there were seven youth suicides. in 2018.

The good news: There have only been two so far this year, he said.

Suicide remains the leading cause of death for children under 18 in the county, according to statistics.

The number of high school and high school students who self-report in the Healthy Kids Colorado biannual survey that they attempted suicide doubled from 2013 to 2019, according to statistics.

One in five students have seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, one in six has made a plan, and nearly one in ten have attempted suicide at least once in the past year , according to El Paso County’s 2019 results.

One of the reasons that more and more children are admitting that harming themselves is something they have thought about or tried could be related to the fact that suicide prevention is more often discussed than in the past, said Haynes.

“Have we made it more acceptable for young people to talk about it and ask for help – maybe that’s what is reflected in the data,” she said during the presentation of the municipal council. “Why it got worse is something we follow. “

The long months of the COVID-19 pandemic for many children have been felt as a state of continually unbalanced conflict.

“For me and most of the people I spoke to, we could all agree that our mental health was worse than it usually would be if it was just a normal year,” said Abella Perkins, 16, of Colorado Springs.

Additional stresses, such as not being able to get out of the house as much and having to be more with their family, canceled activities and events, a lack of socialization and routine daily schedules, challenge well-being. be mental, experts said.

The results of a national poll released last week by the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago found that 71% of parents believe the pandemic has taken its toll on their child’s mental health. And 68% said they wanted to let their child socialize more, saying they prioritize social distancing too much over mental health.

The repercussions of the pandemic were factored into the County Infant Mortality Review Team’s review of pediatric deaths last year, said Kelsey Leva, youth health and development planner. for El Paso County Public Health.

Thirteen of the county’s teenage suicide deaths in 2020 occurred during the COVID-19 window, which began on March 16 and ended in December. In 2019, six teenagers committed suicide during the same period.

“We think it was an indirect impact, not necessarily a cause,” Leva said. “It disrupted many protective factors” including “connectivity with peers and adults outside of their homes”.

Members of the El Paso County Youth Suicide Prevention Task Force are exploring how to best build these important networks inside and outside the school environment and strengthen existing systems that build trust. between young people and adults, she said.

County Health is also launching a pilot program to train young pastors to recognize distressed adolescents and refer them to the Second Wind Fund. The Denver-based nonprofit pays for up to 12 therapy sessions for teens in need.

Another new tool being created is a consent form that would allow young people to give permission to disclose information about their mental health to different behavioral health care providers, with the goal of coordinating their care between agencies.

The form should be ready next month when classes resume, Haynes said. Everything from crisis care to services in schools could be part of what is shared with youth treatment providers, she said.

A suicide prevention education and training program that started last year with parents and for parents continues its work by providing materials on where parents and children can go for help. helping out in the community, Leva said.

A task force committee is also reviewing existing resources for disabled youth, LGBTQ teens and military-related children, she said, to see if improvements could be made to reach those populations.

“Each year we completed this action plan, it was able to go further,” said Leva. “We accomplished a lot together and were ready to pivot quickly when we learned of the increase in teenage deaths by suicide in 2020.”

This year’s action plan, a document updated every year since 2016, takes into account the comments of the young panelists who addressed the working group in January.

Abella was one of a dozen teens who spoke out about what last year was like and what they would like to see, to identify gaps in prevention.

Some of the areas they noted included building trusting relationships between young people and adults, creating safe spaces to connect, making the right resources available, reducing health-related stigma mental health and the ability to adequately access therapy.

Waiting lists for mental health treatment continue to be an issue for some care seekers, Haynes said. While the Pikes Peak area has a good supply of therapists, counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists, Haynes said that because the need for mental health treatment is so great, there appears to be a shortage to meet. to growing demand.

Abella wanted to be part of the adolescent panel because she has been more involved in mental health awareness since the start of the pandemic.

“Because I have struggled with mental health issues, I want to help others as well as myself,” she said. “I also want to be part of the community that is trying to de-stigmatize mental health issues because it has become such a struggle for my generation, as well as for previous generations.

“It would be great if mental health issues were talked about more and not seen as a taboo subject for future generations. “

Everyone can play a role in suicide prevention, Leva said, by standardizing help seeking, giving hope and sharing stories of challenges to overcome.

What does Abella think the community needs to do to tackle youth suicide?

“The most important thing is to listen to us and understand what we are trying to tell you,” she replies.

The Colorado Crisis Line is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-844-493-8255, or text “TALK” to 38255.

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