St. George parents look for answers after 5 teen suicides in Washington County


    A spike in suicides in Washington County schools has parents looking for answers. According to the school district, they've seen five suicides this school year across all Washington County schools. (Photo: KUTV)

    ST. GEORGE, Utah (KUTV) — A spike in suicides in Washington County schools has parents looking for answers.

    According to the school district, they've seen five suicides this school year across all Washington County schools.

    “We’ve got to do something," Monica Owens, a St. George mom, said.

    Her daughter Jerica Bennion is a junior in high school. Just recently, Owens pulled Jerica out of public school.

    “Just suicide after suicide lately. It’s ridiculous,” Bennion said.

    Owens said the number of deaths is overwhelming kids in the tight-knit community.

    “You go to school with these kids and you see them on an everyday basis and they look fine, they seem fine, but you don’t really know what’s going on,” Bennion said.

    “There’s a lot of pressure on these kids,” Owens added.

    Bennion is now finishing up her junior and senior year online.

    “One suicide is one too many," said Steven Dunham, spokesperson for the Washington County School District.

    The district has a number programs available to help students cope with mental health issues. Counselors are at every school and student-run "Hope Squad" are in place for peer-to-peer help.

    But still, Dunham said he knows the suicides are taking a toll on the community.

    “You never want to see any of these happen and yet we’re seeing an escalation in challenges with mental health,” he said.

    The district has one counselor in place for every 350 students. Dunham said each school could use more, but that costs money.

    “There is more we would like to be doing, and that’s where funding comes in; that’s the barrier you can’t get over,” he said.

    Both parents and educators in Saint George agree the state of Utah must do more to address mental health in students.

    “We’ve got to start talking about this,” Owens said.

    If you or someone you know feel hopeless or in crisis, resources are available. Call the national suicide prevention 24-hour lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

    Utahns can also report students they believe to be a danger to themselves or others due to mental health problems, or talk or text with a counselor, through the SafeUT app.

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