Utah youth suicide now leading cause of death for Utah kids ages 11 to 17

Utah Youth Suicide now leading cause of death for Utah kids ages 11 to 17 (Photo: KUTV)

(KUTV) Utah suicide rates are skyrocketing and are now the leading cause of death for Utah youth. The youth suicide rate has tripled in Utah since 2007 -- jumping from three out of every 100,000 youth to 8.5, an alarming increase not seen anywhere else in the country.

There is no one cause or clear reason why the numbers are rising, though there are concerns specific to Utah that the State Health Department will focus on as they grapple with a way to save young lives.

The rate of suicide among Utah's adults has been considered high for years but has not seen a sharp increase like Utah youth, ages 10 to 17.

"As of 2014, it is the leading cause of death over car accidents," said Andrea Hood. Vehicles are the traditional risk for teens according to Hood, a state suicide prevention specialist.

The latest Utah data shows 86 Utah youth took their own lives from 2012 to 2014, a shock even to Hood who deals with the issue on a daily basis.

"It is definitely a Utah problem."

Figuring out what's behind the tragic trend is complicated according to Hood who has to look at known data.

"Utah and other western states have higher access to firearms which increases the chances someone will die in a suicide attempt."

45 percent of Utah's youth suicides were committed with a handgun. The Utah Department of Health is asking parents who own guns to lock them up.

"Even if you don't think your children are at risk, it is a good precaution and especially if your child has depression or suicidal thoughts."

Utah is woefully understaffed per capita when it comes to mental health counselors and treatment centers. Utah youth are also exposed to higher elevations that scientific studies have recently shown can change brain activity and cause depression. Utah families move more often than many others, which can lead kids to feel isolated in new surroundings.

There is also religious pressure that comes from a dominant faith in the state.

In November, the LDS church added same-sex marriage to its definition of apostasy, excluding children of same-sex marriages from membership until they turn 18. If children of gay couples wish to become members as adults, the Church requires them to disavow their parents' practice of same-sex cohabitation or marriage and stop living within the household. The church's governing First Presidency would need to approve such baptisms.

"We have been closely watching our rates since various events that happened in Utah relating to the LDS church," Hood said. "We have not seen an increase tied to those announcements."

That may be due to a lack of hard data, which Hood said is hard to come by. Unless an investigator specifically notes that the deceased was LGBT in the police report, the health department can't track sexual identity as a variable.

"It is a huge barrier that we are not getting that information from investigators," she said. It is something the state will have to work to get added into reports filed by police agencies statewide.

LGBT youth are known to be at greater risk, according to Hood who says "youth who feel they are highly rejected by their family members or community when they come out as LGBT, are at 8 times higher risk of suicide."

There are many websites that try to track these deaths and call attention to the problem.

On Tuesday Utah's Tyler Glenn, the lead singer of Neon trees, posted a video on his Facebook page with the names and faces of Utah teens and young adults who took their lives because they did not feel accepted after coming out as LGBT+.

The video has hundreds of comments and thousands of views. Glenn recently left the LDS church after the November announcements by the church.

While the state works to figure out what has caused the skyrocketing number of deaths, there is new help for kids who don't know who to talk to. A new app called Safe-UT was released in January and has already answered texts at all hours of the day from kids who say they are suicidal. The APP is free and run by the University of Utah's Neuropsychiatric Institute where counselors are on hand to help anyone who reaches out.

While the center has its crisis line, 801-587-3000, it said kids rarely call the number. They hope the new anonymous app will get more people to reach out in a medium where they feel comfortable.

"This is an opportunity for us to reach them in a way that they are comfortable, we are talking about a lot of kids with text that we never would have talk to before," said Barry Rose, a Crisis Service manager with UNI. He said the app can be used to make a call, text for help or for kids to text tips during school if they see someone who needs help or is in trouble.

The state has more than 800 schools, and more than 100 are on board with the app and encourage kids to download it. In the meantime, parents are encouraged to talk to their kids about suicide, make sure their kids know there is help out there.

The app is free, and completely anonymous. Youth do not have to worry that a parent or teacher will be contacted. The only way the crisis workers will know a name, address or phone number is if you give it to them.

The State Health Department says parents should keep an eye on social media, because risk for suicide goes up if kids see someone they know who commits suicide. On the flip side, talking to your kids doesn't up their risk but helps them know there is someone there to help an get them whatever assistance they need.

To download the app click here or find it at Google Play.

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