Earlier this year, the United Health Foundation reported that youth suicide in Colorado has grown at a rate of 59% over the past three years.
According to this study, teen suicide now accounts for one out of every five adolescent deaths, and our teen suicide rate has grown at a rate nearly double the national average.
This is an all-out emergency and a public health crisis. Suicide has become normalized for young people in our state and in our country.
Kids going to school today tell me that they believe it is inevitable that one of their peers will die by suicide before they’re able to graduate high school. Unless we radically revamp the way we treat and talk about mental health with our kids, they will be right.
I refuse to accept our skyrocketing youth suicide rate as the new status quo. I refuse to accept the inevitability of suicide, and I am convinced that we can fix this issue in our state and in our country if we face it head-on.
We need to de-normalize suicide, in the way we talk about it to our kids, in the way we report it in the news. I encourage all parents to tell their kids that suicide is not an inevitable end.
Ask them to commit to reaching out to you if the thought ever crosses their mind, or if their friends are talking about completing the act.
Make it safe to discuss their fears and anxieties with you. And, if they tell you they are thinking about suicide, believe them and get them help with a qualified mental health provider.
As a legislator, I’m working hard to improve the way our state deals with youth mental health. This year I passed a law to give students as young as 12 the right to seek mental health treatment without parental consent.
These students have the cognitive ability to reach out for help, and I believe we should remove barriers to care — not build them up.
We need to give children the power to seek out the help they need. Our job is to teach them how to become adults, and step one is knowing when you need help and not being afraid to ask for it. Give them room to seek help and guidance from trusted adults in our schools and communities.
Although it can be difficult for some parents to grapple with, it is important to recognize that perceived opposition to care can be a roadblock to our kids reaching out to us for help.
In fact, the Colorado Children’s Campaign reported from their Healthy Kids survey that one in five Colorado youth report not having a trusted adult in their lives.
We need to start talking to our kids about all the kinds of care available to them so they may become healthy, productive members of our community.
As parents and community members, there are many other actions you can take today to ensure that you are fully prepared to give your children or other teens in your life the support they need to stay well.
An important step is to enroll in a Youth Mental Health First-Aid class. These courses are available at no cost to you at many community mental health centers across our state, and taking one can give you the skills you need to recognize the symptoms of depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation in teens.
Seek help for yourself and be a role model for your children. According to the organization Mental Health First Aid, “almost half of adults will experience mental illness during their lifetime.”
And “only 41% of the people who had a mental health disorder in the past year received professional health care or other services.”
Having conversations about mental health wellness and suicide with your children seems uncomfortable to some and unnecessary to others. It is neither. Our children face pressures that can be hard for us to wrap our heads around, but we must find ways to be there for them.
I will keep working to improve access to mental health services for everyone in our state. I am confident that we can drastically lower our state’s suicide rate, but your help is needed. In order to fight back, we’ll need all hands on deck.
Dafna Michaelson Jenet is the State Representative for Colorado House District 30. She serves as the Co-Chair of the House Democratic Caucus and the Vice Chair of the Public Health Care & Human Services Committee.