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Suicide has become a teenage reality in Colorado

Suicide has become a teenage reality in Colorado

Picture of Jessica Seaman

Mental health and teen suicide have become massive topics in Colorado, especially in recent months as a high school near Denver reported two student deaths in a single semester.

And then there was the search for and death of Sol Pais, a Florida teen who authorities initially said was “infatuated” with the Columbine High School massacre and whose presence in the state resulted in the closure of hundreds of schools. She died by suicide.

A few weeks later, two students entered their school in a Denver suburb and fired on their classmates, killing one and injuring others. The youngest of the suspects had planned to kill himself after the attack, according to authorities.

These events, which occurred over a period of four months, are just the latest examples of how the rise in teen suicide is affecting communities across Colorado. 

That’s why I will spend my 2019 National Fellowship exploring the rise of teen suicide in the state. I will document how the public health issue is affecting communities across Colorado and examine whether the systems in place are doing enough to help young people struggling with mental illness.

The project will also explore the barriers — such as access and cost — parents face in seeking treatment for their children.

In Colorado, suicide is the number one cause of death for youths — and the number continues to grow. In 2015-17, there were 533 suicides by teens and children. That’s up from 340 deaths for the 2003-05 period, according to a state report.

It’s affecting children as young as 9 years old. Last year, a fourth grader at Joe Shoemaker Elementary School died by suicide. Jamel Myles’ mother said he had been bullied after revealing he was gay.

That case, which was stunning because of Jamel’s age, highlights the challenges children and teenagers face. 

A report by Colorado’s attorney general found disparities among LGBTQ youth, with nearly 45% reporting that they had considered suicide and nearly 20% attempting suicide in 2017.

The pressure to perform well in school, along with social media, cyberbullying and trauma were identified by that same report as risk factors for teen suicide.

But do adults understand enough about what it’s like to be a teen in 2019?

Despite growing awareness around the issue, teenagers say adults aren’t talking about mental health enough. Families still struggle to find help for their children. And schools say the burden of caring for students’ mental health is increasingly falling on them. But there is only so much that they can do.

With the support of USC Annenberg’s Center for Health Journalism, The Denver Post wants to drive conversation around this issue and engage with our community by listening to those most affected by teen suicide.

As I report on this topic, I will tell the stories through the eyes of parents, teachers and mental health professionals. But most importantly, I will give a voice to those who are hit most by this issue: teenagers.


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