Study: Half of suicidal teens got help, but not good enough help

More than half of suicidal teenagers in the U.S. received therapy before they thought about, planned or attempted to kill themselves, a fact that suggests medical professionals need to do a better job of counseling and treating those at-risk youths, a suicide prevention expert said Tuesday.

The Harvard University study, which found that 55 percent had received at least some treatment before attempting suicide or taking a step toward it, contradicts the widely held view that suicide among teens is due in part to a lack of access to therapy, according to Dr. Russell Copelan.

“It’s access to competent treatment,” Copelan told roughly 80 participants in the Youth Suicide Prevention & Intervention Symposium at the DoubleTree by Hilton.

Tuesday’s forum, attended by counselors, teachers and medical professionals from 12 counties, was the fifth such symposium put on by the Colorado Department of Education, Colorado Department of Human Services and Colorado School Safety Resource Center since 2010.

“This is just such a big issue in Colorado,” Colorado School Safety Resource Center Director Christine Harms said, noting it was no coincidence that the forum was brought to Grand Junction. Colorado’s and Mesa County’s suicide rates have far outpaced the U.S. average.

The state’s per-capita suicide rate among 15- to 19-year-olds of 13.4 per 100,000 people is higher than the 8.4 per 100,000 rate nationally, and it hasn’t changed significantly since 2000, according to Copelan. Those 20 to 24 years old are at an even higher risk for suicide — 17.8 per 100,000 in the state compared to the national average of 12.3.

Tuesday’s forum included sessions on conducting risk assessments, intervening after a student completes suicide and school-based prevention programs and planning. Despite suicide rates remaining disturbingly high, Harms said school officials have improved in recent years in their approach to students they believe may be suicidal and getting them the help they need.


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