Youth suicides in Utah increase by 141.3 percent

The Utah Department of Health (UDOH) announced today, Nov. 30, that suicides among Utah youth aged 10-17 from 2011 to 2015, increased 141.3 percent, compared to an increase of 23.5 percent nationally.

Suicidal ideation and attempts among Utah youth also increased during this time period. In Summit County, youth suicide attempts increased by 3 percent (826 youth).

The UDOH requested help from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to better understand the factors leading to this increase.

A team of Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) officers from the CDC was deployed to Utah to conduct an independent epidemiologic investigation, also known as an Epi-Aid, of this urgent public health problem. The Epi-Aid team worked closely with staff at the UDOH to analyze data from seven major data sources to better determine trends, common precipitating factors for suicide, and risk and protective factors for suicidal behaviors unique to Utah youth.

“None of these data sets could have provided such a comprehensive picture of what is happening alone,” said Michael Friedrichs, epidemiologist with the UDOH. “Our investigation showed that suicide is complex and youth can experience multiple risk and protective factors. No single behavior or risk factor could explain all the reasons for the increase we’ve seen.”

From 2011 to 2015, 150 Utah youth aged 10-17 died by suicide, the majority of which were aged 15-17 years (75.4%), male (77.4%), and non-Hispanic white (81.3%). More than a third (35.2%) of youth who died by suicide had a mental health diagnosis and nearly a third (31.0%) were depressed at the time of their death.

“We continue to see the critical importance of addressing mental health concerns both in relation to suicide deaths and suicidal ideation and attempts,” said Kimberly Myers, suicide prevention coordinator at the Utah Department of Human Services. “Mental health treatment can and does work. Suicide is preventable and we need to continue to promote better access to care for those struggling with suicidal thoughts.”

Those experiencing suicidal thoughts can reach out for free, confidential help 24/7 by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visiting suicidepreventionlifeline.org.  The SafeUT Crisis Text & Tip Line app is also available for download. Suicide prevention resources for LGBTQ youth are available at https://www.thetrevorproject.org.

In addition to mental health concerns, family relationship problems, other forms of violence such as bullying at school and electronic bullying, substance use, and psychological distress were common risk factors in youth suicides. However, supportive family, community, and peer environments were protective against suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.

“Families, schools, neighborhoods, and communities at large must become safeguards against suicidal thoughts for youth,” said Cathy Davis, suicide prevention coordinator with the Utah State Board of Education. “Including youth in decisions that affect them, setting clear expectations and rules, ensuring youth are able to ask for and receive help when needed, giving them opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities, and providing a safe place where youth live, learn, and play can all help prevent suicides.”

Additional findings showed that among those youth who died by suicide:

  • 55.3% experienced a recent crisis within two weeks of the death (family relationships and dating partner problems were the most common recent crisis)
  • 23.9% disclosed their intent to die within one month prior to their death
  • 20.5% had a history of cutting or had evidence of recent cutting
  • 12.6% experienced family conflicts as a result of restriction to technology use or that resulted in a restriction to technology, such as having a mobile phone, tablet, laptop, or gaming system being taken away by a parent or guardian
  • Of the 40 cases that had information on the decedent’s sexual orientation, six (15.0%) were identified as sexual minorities

The Epi-Aid team also compared the three most commonly implemented suicide prevention programs in Utah schools – QPR, Hope Squads, and Hope for Tomorrow – to national recommendations for suicide prevention. None of the three programs have been rigorously evaluated for effects on suicidal behavior, although findings from less rigorous evaluation show some preliminary positive results.

The CDC made the following recommendations based on these findings:

  • Increase access to evidence-based mental health care for youth
  • Strengthen family relationships
  • Promote connectedness within the home, peer, school, and community environments
  • Identify and provide support to youth at risk of suicidal behaviors
  • Prevent other forms of violence among youth
  • Reduce access to lethal means
  • Teach coping and problem solving skills
  • Consider comprehensive and coordinated suicide prevention programs that address multiple risk and protective factors simultaneously
  • Conduct ongoing comprehensive evaluation of suicide prevention programs

Suicide is a complex behavior with multiple risk and protective factors. “No one prevention strategy will work to prevent all suicides. However, implementing comprehensive, coordinated prevention programs will be effective and likely reduce suicidal behaviors among Utah youth,” said Myers.

To get involved in suicide prevention efforts in Utah or to find a suicide prevention training near you, visit https://utahsuicideprevention.org.

A three-page summary report of the findings is available at http://ow.ly/4rME30gTMBl. The complete CDC investigation report is available at http://health.utah.gov.

Trailside Mileage Club logs 2,924 miles so far this year

The 429 members of Trailside Elementary’s Mileage Club have already logged 2,924 miles so far this year. On Nov. 21, the students logged 140 miles, despite the rain and the wind.

The program, sponsored by the school’s PTO, is a running/walking club that encourages students to get exercise during their lunch recess. The PTO encourages teachers, parent volunteers, and younger siblings to join in the run. Some 46 students have already run more than 13 miles and are considered “All Stars.”

“The amazing Jess Lerner moved to Park City this past summer from a school in Colorado that had a Mileage Club. After becoming our PTO vice president of Health and Wellness, she introduced the idea to us,” said Megan Luckan, co-PTO president at Trailside this year with Melanie Smith. “We were so taken with the idea of fostering continued group activity at recess, and the physical and mental health benefits of the exercise, that our PTO Board voted unanimously to have her start it.”

Parent volunteers help set up and take down, cheer runners on, hand out awards and track laps.

The Mileage Club offers students the opportunity to build self-esteem, improve their health, and experience their own personal power. Based on a non-competitive philosophy, the Mileage Club focuses on the completion of both personal and collaborative goals.

This is the last week of the Mileage Club, with runs planned for Tuesday and Thursday (Nov. 28 and 30), from 11-12:30 p.m. Once students have completed four laps they receive a charm. This week’s charm is a snowman.

Breakfast served at all PCSD schools

The Child Nutrition Services Department wants to remind parents that breakfast is served in all schools within Park City School District.

The School Breakfast Program is a national program that provides millions of children a nutritious morning meal each school day. School breakfast is a critical support for struggling families trying to stretch limited resources and provides children a significant portion of the nutrition they need to learn and be healthy, according to the Food Research Action Center.

“Kick off your child’s day on a positive note, start with a healthy breakfast that includes fresh fruits and whole grains,” said PCSD Director of Child Nutrition R.J. Owen.

For a nominal fee, students can eat breakfast in the cafeteria before school starts. Cost is $1.20 at elementary schools, $1.35 at Ecker Hill Middle, $1.45 at Treasure Mountain Junior High, $1.50 at Park City High, and reduced breakfasts are $.30.

Superintendent sends safety letter to parents

Superintendent Ember Conley emailed the following letter this morning to all parents in Park City School District outlining the safety procedures the district followed during Tuesday’s lockdown/lockout at schools on the Kearns Campus.

November 17, 2017

Dear Parents,

Thank you for your patience and understanding as we managed and evaluated our Kearns Campus lockdown/lockout earlier this week. Our staff had recently reviewed the district safety procedures with students after the University of Utah shooting; and our schools were prepared because of the safety drills and reviews we conduct throughout the year.  

We are appreciative of the Park City High student who saw the individual and immediately reported it to school authorities. Law enforcement was called and the Park City Police were able to apprehend the individual and secure all Kearns Campus schools within 40 minutes. We have asked the City Attorney to charge the individual to the full extent of the law.  Additionally, we have followed our school district policies and carried out necessary actions to prevent this occurring in the future with the individual.

In debriefing with the team, we did have an incident at McPolin Elementary where a few students were sent outside to their modular classroom during the lockout. This should not have occurred; and we have reviewed proper procedures with the principal and staff.  As a parent of an elementary aged student, I can imagine the fear and frustration that a few parents have felt.

As we always do, we debriefed Wednesday morning with our administrative team, who debriefed within their individual schools. We have also received feedback and suggestions from our PTOs, which are very helpful. We meet this next week with our district safety team and will make necessary modifications to our procedures.These modifications often times result in more practice of the protocol, addressing areas of deficiencies, and changing systems, like technology and communication. We are in the process of looking at different emergency notification systems and will alert parents when we have that in place.

As a reminder, in the event of a school or community emergency that requires school lockout (secure perimeter), lockdown(secure perimeter and inside building), shelter in place, closure, or evacuation status, information will be provided to parents as soon as possible. Our first priority is to work with law enforcement to notify our schools and employees so they can take the proper precautions with our students.

Parents, please allow emergency personnel full access to the emergency by remaining clear of the school. We are reviewing several emergency notification systems that offer state-of-the-art technology so we can notify you more immediately. Our first priority is to mitigate the situation at hand with staff and students. We will alert parents as soon as we possibly can. Until we have the alert system purchased and implemented, the fastest mode of communication is our district Facebook page and website. As always, we encourage students with cell phones to text their parents, stating that they are safe and to await notification from the school district and law enforcement.  

We reaffirm our commitment to student and staff safety and will do all we can to improve our protocol and our communication with parents.

Sincerely,

Ember Conley, Superintendent