For a long time, there has been a stigma surrounding mental health issues in the United States. Teens are no exception, as they often can feel embarrassed or ashamed to discuss conditions like depression and, in many cases, attempt to self-treat with substances like alcohol or drugs. In recent years, mental health has become part of a national discussion and the stigma seems to be lifting somewhat.
Despite this changing climate, Colorado is not seeing better mental health outcomes. Instead, teen suicide is rising to unprecedented, devastatingly high numbers in the state. Suicide rates among teens in Colorado increased by 58% in the last three years, making it the cause of one in five adolescent deaths.
Reasons For High Suicide Rate
There is no one reason to explain the decision behind suicide. There might be several motivating factors or warning signs. Or, in all-too-many cases, parents and friends are blindsided — never knowing there was a problem or that suicide was a possibility.
Every individual is different and it’s impossible to pinpoint the “reasons” for suicide. However, researchers, people who work with at-risk teens and teens who have experienced mental health issues can point to two general areas that might play a factor in the rise of suicide among teens: access to mental health care and stigma from adults.
Access To Mental Health Care
Access to mental health, generally, is a national problem and it’s also the case in Colorado. It can be very difficult to get youth mental health services, even when parents are alerted that a teen is suffering from depression or having suicidal thoughts.
Child and adolescent psychiatrists are in short supply. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, there are only 15 psychiatrists licensed to treat children and teens in the state of Colorado.
Teens who go to the emergency room might wait for days for a bed to open up. Even when teens successfully secure treatment, this often requires them to miss school and activities — which can add to their stress and create additional pressures.
Stigma From Adults
Another barrier to mental health treatment for teens is the stigma that they perceive from adults.
When talking to teens who have struggled with depression or suicidal thoughts, they explain that they have a hard time finding a trusted adult to talk to about their feelings. This disconnect might be due to a generational issue where parents and teachers of teenagers have a stigma about mental health left behind from their own childhood and struggle to offer upfront empathy or openness.
Helping Teens Through Mental Health Issues
What’s the best way to help teens who are struggling with mental health issues? Educating parents on mental health and improving communication between parents and teens on the issue of suicide are two crucial components of teens getting the help they need.
When a child or adolescent is having suicidal thoughts, they require help from an adult — whether it’s a parent, teacher, coach or other authority figure. Some school districts, like the Jefferson County School District, are stepping up to meet this need. The Jefferson County School District is training all adults who work in the schools, regardless of what their position is, on warning signs of suicide and how to talk to students about it and point them toward help.
In response to the rising problem of suicide in Colorado, state officials are working to act on recommendations to:
- Create a culture of support for teens in crisis
- Implement programs that build resilience
- Increase access to social activities and supportive environments
- Increase funding targeted to prevent teen suicide
- Leverage public health campaigns to destigmatize mental health issues
- Create coalitions of providers and foster relationships between providers and youth-oriented organizations
- Train media professionals on how to safely cover suicide
While these efforts can help to prevent suicide and help teens on a large scale, there’s a lot that parents, friends and others can do at an individual level. Helping a teen who has suicidal thoughts to get mental health care can be the difference between life and death.
If you need immediate help, please call 1-844-493-8255 to reach Colorado Crisis Services.
Further, if your teen is struggling with a mental health disorder as well as substance abuse, The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake can help. Call today to speak with a representative about treatment options for co-occurring disorders and get the help you deserve.
O’Donnell, Jane. “Help hard to find for teens struggling with mental health, thoughts of suicide.” USA Today, May 20, 2019. Accessed October 8, 2019.
Health Management Associates. “Community Conversations to Inform Youth Suicide Prevention.” 2018. Accessed October 8, 2019.
Daley, John. “The Rate Of Teen Suicide In Colorado Increased By 58% In 3 Years, Making It The Cause Of 1 In 5 Adolescent Deaths.” CPR News, September 17, 2019. Accessed October 8, 2019.
Seaman, Jessica. “Teens are more open about talking about mental health and suicide. But they say adults are slow to catch up.” The Denver Post, April 14, 2019. Accessed October 8, 2019.