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Youth suicides increasing at alarming rate


Last updated 2/3/2016 at Noon

Youth suicide is now a leading mental health issue for Snohomish County. In fact, some experts warn, it’s a crisis.

According to the Snohomish Health District, suicide is Snohomish County’s ninth leading cause of death – second for those 15-24 years old.

In the 2014-15 school year, the county lost 13 students from 12-19 years old to suicide.

“That sobering fact, combined with responses from the students, demonstrates a real need for this community to come together and show our youth that they matter,” said Dr. Gary Goldbaum, health officer and director for the Snohomish Health District.

Snohomish County’s annual suicide rate – for both youth and adults – is higher than the rates for the state and the nation.

Rates of suicides and suicide attempts have increased in Snohomish County since 2008.

“The suicide rate in Snohomish County is just about the highest it’s ever been,” said Rena Fitzgerald, Crisis Chat program manager. “It’s more than a public health problem, it’s a crisis.”

It has been estimated that 80 take their own lives every year in Snohomish County, though, in 2010, the health district reported 107 reported suicides.

Of 140 total suicides in the county from 2012 to 2014, there was one reported suicide in the 0-14 range and 23 in the 15-24 range.

“We have a trend again of shooting back up above the state level quite a bit, and this is mostly due to youth suicides,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s the group that is growing at an alarming rate.

“Of course, it’s alarming to all of us because they are our future, and yet they’re ending their lives.”

Suicide prevention – for both youth and adults – was one of the top three issues of Snohomish County identified in the Community Health Improvement Plan.

The plan is to reduce the rate of suicide in Snohomish County from 14.6 per 100,000 to 10.2 per 100,000 by 2020.

Fitzgerald said that suicide can be contagious for youth – meaning copy cats – but only for those who are already at risk for suicide.

“There is a huge potential for contagion,” she said. “Just like an infectious disease, one person gets the virus, another person catches the virus. Youth are especially susceptible to emotional contagion.

“Youth just have to know about it within their community for it to overwhelm them emotionally and cause them pain. They start to think that suicide is an option for them.”

She said suicide is most often linked to undiagnosed depression, but that it is also linked to self-harm.

“We have this idea that self-harm – cutting specifically – has nothing to do with suicide,” Fitzgerald said. “There is a connection, and it’s a strong one. We have to take it seriously.”

One in 25 die by suicide within a year of trying self-harm. More than 50 percent of those who completed suicide also had a history of self-harm, such as cutting, burning and picking.

The latest release of the 2014 Healthy Youth Survey shows that Snohomish County’s youth are having thoughts of suicide.

The survey showed that an increasing number of local teens feel sad or hopeless, have made suicide plans or have attempted suicide.

Goldbaum said all the new data shows that the community as a whole should be aware of signs to look for if a teen is in crisis and where to go for help.

“[There’s] a real need for this community to come together and show our youth that they matter,” he said.

Goldbaum said the district has seen little or no improvement since 2008 in the number of youth who have seriously considered attempting suicide, have made a suicide plan or who attempted suicide.

The survey found that more students say depression significantly affects their daily lives, suicide planning and attempts continue to rise, and that youth feel that they don’t have an adult they can turn to for help.

“These results are quite distressing, but there are strategies to help our youth,” Goldbaum said. “Most important is getting young people to ask for help if they need it, and for the adults around them to be engaged, aware and listening.

“Our students need to know there is hope and something to look forward to. We all play a role in preventing suicide.”

Fitzgerald said talking about suicide doesn’t increase the risk of someone killing themselves. Talking openly and freely, and listening without being judgmental, actually helps.

“It helps the student learn about their feelings, think of new ways to see their situation, and to see how their feelings connect,” she said. “Negative emotions can also be released by talking about why dying by suicide sounds like an option.”

If you know a teen who is suicidal, Fitzgerald recommends that you reassure him or her that you are going to help them.

Tell them you are not disappointed or angry with them for feeling suicidal. Above all, validate their feelings.

“It is good to show concern and emotion, but stay in control,” she said. “Take charge and do not allow fear or denial to defeat you.”

Fitzgerald also recommends that you ask if they have a suicide plan and if the means are available. Then, collaboratively identify ways to secure or limit access to lethal means.

If the means for the suicide plan are available at home, secure them. Secure all medications and sharps, and reduce access to hoses and ropes in the garage. All guns at home should always be secured.

Here are the warning signs: talking about a desire to kill themselves, investigating or collecting means to do so, acting anxious, agitated, behaving recklessly, sleeping too little or too much, withdrawing or feeling isolated, increased alcohol or drug use, showing rage or talking about seeking revenge, extreme mood swings, and talking about feeling trapped or about being a burden to others.

If you or a teen you know is talking about wanting to die, looking for a way to kill themselves, or having no reason to live, immediately call the Care Crisis Line at 1-800-584-3578.

Visit the Health District’s Youth Suicide Prevention page for a list of sites, phone numbers and apps available 24/7.

If you’re interested in joining the Snohomish Health District in its mission to decrease suicide rates, call 425-339-8650 or email healthstats@snohd.org.


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