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Teen suicide—risk factors, COVID-era complications, resources

Any time is a good time to support the emotional health of our youth. In September, which is Teen Suicide Awareness Month in Arizona, we zero in on suicide prevention strategies that can make a life-or-death difference for a young person. Here at BCBSAZ, we're actively involved in the effort to raise awareness about this critical aspect of emotional wellness among Arizona's teens. 

Any time is a good time to support the emotional health of our youth. In September, which is Teen Suicide Awareness Month in Arizona, we zero in on suicide prevention strategies that can make a life-or-death difference for a young person. Here at Blue Cross® Blue Shield® of Arizona (BCBSAZ), we're actively involved in the effort to raise awareness about this critical aspect of emotional wellness among Arizona's teens. 

We've partnered with Teen Lifeline, which offers a statewide teen crisis hotline as well as prevention and postvention (support conducted after the loss of a loved one from suicide) trainings for youth and the adults in their lives. Together, we're working to make information available to people of all ages in an effort to lower the rate of teen suicide in Arizona and beyond. 

The facts about teen suicide

Suicide among young people is an extremely serious public health concern. Consider these numbers:

  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 34 nationally.
  • In Arizona, one teen dies by suicide every 5.5 days, and for every death there are another 200 suspected attempts.
  • Our state's suicide rate among 15- to 19-year-olds has increased by 25% since 2016.
  • In 2017, the Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that:
    • One in three teens felt sad or hopeless
    • One in five seriously considered suicide.
    • One in seven had made a plan for how they would attempt suicide.
    • One in 10 had previously made a suicide attempt.

Risks and warning signs
Depression in teenagers is a serious health issue that affects every aspect of a young person's life. In extreme cases, it can even lead to thoughts of suicide. However, depression is not the only risk factor for suicide among teens. Any of these can be cause for concern:

  • Undiagnosed, untreated, or ineffective treatment of one or more mental health challenges
  • Biological factors, including temperament and threshold for stress
  • Past history of trauma
  • Previous suicide attempts or familiarity with someone who has died by suicide
  • Current life events (loss, drug or alcohol use, bullying, illness in family)
  • Making threats or talking about self-harm
  • Dramatic mood changes
  • Withdrawal from family and friends

The role of COVID-19
The coronavirus pandemic has intensified many of the pressures that teenagers were already facing, potentially leading to new or worsening cases of depression, anxiety, and even suicidality.

School closures have separated youth from their peers; sports and enrichment activities have been disrupted; and screen time hours (including social media use) have skyrocketed. In addition, there is evidence that COVID-19-related stress has elevated risks of domestic violence, including child abuse, even in homes where no such risks existed before. It's important for adults to remember that teens not only share their generalized pandemic-era worries but likely feel more powerless against them.

Suicide prevention teacher training to begin
Public and charter school staff throughout Arizona are beginning training in suicide awareness, prevention, and intervention this fall, as required by legislation passed in 2019. The Mitch Warnock Act, named in honor of a Tempe teen who took his life in 2016, requires suicide prevention training for school staff who engage with students in grades 6-12. However, there is no funding provided by the state. Through Mobilize AZ, BCBSAZ is supporting school districts by connecting them with no-cost youth mental health first aid master training through Project AWARE. We're also providing Mobilize AZ grant funding to support schools in providing the training to staff.

As always, Mobilize AZ serves as a valuable resource for guidance related to a variety of health concerns—including suicidality among young people. The site is packed with information that might help you or someone you care about.

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Disclaimer

This information is provided for educational purposes only. Individuals should always consult with their healthcare providers regarding medical care or treatment, as recommendations, services or resources are not a substitute for the advice or recommendation of an individual's physician or healthcare provider. Services or treatment options may not be covered under an individual's particular health plan.