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El Paso County's decrease in teen suicide bucks state, national trends

The Gazette Online

El Paso County’s decrease in teen suicides is bucking state and national trends, as adolescent death by suicide has continued to rise over the past three years, a new report shows.

National teen suicide and child mortality rates have “increased sharply” since the 2016 America’s Health Rankings Health of Women and Children Report, says the new report released this week.

The U.S. suicide rate rose 25% for adolescents ages 15-19, rising from 8.4 to 10.5 deaths per 100,000 adolescents, reports the United Health Foundation, which conducts the study.

In Colorado, teen suicide increased 58% from 2016 through 2018 — the largest increase of all states and ranking 45th worst among 50 states. That equates to 20.4 deaths, up from 12.9 in 2016, per 100,000 adolescents ages 15-19. Teen suicide is cited in the report as one of Colorado’s primary challenges in addressing children’s health.

But in El Paso County, death by suicide in that 15-19 age group declined 46.7% over the same period, reports El Paso County Public Health.

he county had 15 completed suicides among people aged 15-19 in 2016. That dropped to 11 in 2017 and eight in 2018 for that age group.

County health officials attribute the decline, at least in part, to a massive community prevention effort after the rate for ages 17 and under doubled in 2015 to 14, up from seven in 2014.

“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.

For example, she said, 160 youth pastors and other faith leaders who work with children have taken free youth mental health first aid training. The program teaches how to identify youths exhibiting signs of mental problems and possibly considering suicide, talk with them, assess what’s going on and get them professional help.

“It gets everybody working with young people using the same language when talking about mental health,” Haynes said. “It’s evidence-based and a best practice.”

The training came out of a youth mental health suicide-prevention work group that county Public Health organized.

Youth suicides are tracked locally by ages 17 and under. Of those ages, the county had 15 completed suicides in 2016, 13 in 2017 and seven in 2018.

As of last month, the 2019 year-to-date total was six suicides among children ages 17 and under, according to the county Coroner’s Office.

Suicide had been the leading cause of death among youths under age 18 in the county for several years, Haynes said. But a dramatic increase in accidents — such as sleep death, traffic crashes, a fall, fire or drowning — now leads the list.

Locally, preventable deaths of children ages birth to 17 spiked 73.1% between 2014 and 2017, county health statistics show.

The county’s Child Fatality Prevention System Team reviewed 45 preventable child deaths in 2017, compared with 26 in 2014.

Nationwide, the U.S. child mortality rate increased 6% for children ages 1-19 since the 2016 America’s Health Rankings Health of Women and Children Report, which authors cited as “an especially concerning trend after declines since 1980.”

Date Published