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Utah young male suicide rate highest in U.S.

Jared Whitley Of the Record staff

The Utah suicide rate for young males is the highest in the nation. The question is: why? "That’s the million-dollar question," said David Johnson, special assistant to Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.

To help combat this "silent epidemic, the Attorney General’s office recently joined forces with anti-suicide group the Jason Foundation to provide suicide prevention training for free to Utah teens, parents and educators. "We’re going to work with them to make parents more aware of what’s going on," Johnson said. "The Attorney General just wanted to make parents more aware of the warning sings. It’s something he feels is important and parents should know about." The Jason Foundation was founded by Tennessee resident Clark Flatt after his then 16-year-old son, Jason, killed himself in 1997. "I don’t want another parent to go through the pain I went through," said Flatt in a press release. "My son was a bright and lively young man who was looking forward to the upcoming football season. Together we can make a difference in the tragedy of youth suicide in Utah by helping one person at a time." The Jason Foundation has a kit prepared for parents and educators ("A Promise for Tomorrow") which includes a video, brochures, and a teacher’s manual. "It’s a program that should be used in schools," Johnson said. "Teachers, principals, and parents can get the resource material and request more information at the Jason Foundation Web site." The Web site, jasonfoundation.com, offers a host of resources including info for seminars, suicide statistics, and lists of affiliated health care centers. "If you saw someone having a heart attack, you’d call 911. But what if a friend told you they were thinking about suicide? What would you do? Who would you call?" reads a page on the Web site. "People are afraid to talk about suicide. Because no one is talking, young people are dying — one every one hour and forty-five minutes, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week." The Jason Foundation helps parents and teachers recognize suicide warning signs, Johnson said, which include when teens withdraw from school, suddenly fail in classes, become depressed, and stop engaging in the same activities they used to enjoy, Johnson said. According to jasonfoundation.com, other warning signs include a pre-occupation with death, taking unnecessary risks, and making statements about feeling worthless or hopeless Nationwide, youth suicide is the third leading cause of death for those between the age of 15 and 24 and the second leading cause of death for college-aged students. "It’s all over the map, you can’t say there’s more 15 year olds than 24 year olds," Johnson said. Part of the anti-suicide push is accumulating more statistics on suicide rates in Utah, he continued. The Attorney General’s office is promoting the community assistant resource line (CARL): 1-877-778-CARL (2275). "It’s a line that parents can call to talk with a professional. From that they can get mental health resources," Johnson said, noting the hotline can help with other mental health issues, not just suicide.

Suicide rates in Utah have gotten worse in the last 10 to 20 years, Johnson said. That reflects national statistics as well: in the past 40 years, youth suicide rates have almost tripled, and suicide is the second leading cause of death among college-age youth, according to jasonfoundation.com. "Teen suicide is always a concern, it’s a complex issue. It’s not one that we want create a lot of drama around," said Merrilee Buchanan, clinical social worker and assistant program manager with Valley Mental Health. School counselors are well trained to recognize when kids are feeling suicidal, Buchanan said. Sometimes kids will tell their friends and then swear them to secrecy. Suicide statistics

Suicide is more common in Western states. One reason could be because of easier access to firearms. "In the Western United States everyone is more gun-pro out here so they are more accessible," Johnson said. A commonly quoted suicide statistic is that women attempt it more frequently, but men are more successful, since they tend to use more immediately lethal methods (like guns), whereas women tend to use drugs or poison, which can be treated, Buchanan said. "Kids are impulsive when they have access to things that could hurt them, that’s when the risk goes up," Buchanan said. "In the rural populations people are more likely to keep guns." The Utah Health Department reported that in 2003, its most current data, 335 people in Utah killed themselves; 281 were men. Firearms were the most frequently used method, in 181 total suicides. Of those, 162 were men and 19 were women. University of Tennessee head football Coach Phillip Fulmer is the national spokesperson for the foundation and former Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher serves on the foundation’s Medical Advisory Board.


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