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Youth suicide rate in Colorado falls to lowest point in nearly a decade

Health leaders say the decrease is not statistically significant, but they are hopeful
Posted at 4:20 PM, Aug 13, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-14 10:49:18-04

New data could offer a glimmer of hope when it comes to youth suicides in Colorado.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) says in 2022, there were 8.53 suicide deaths for every 100,000 people between the ages of 10 and 18.

That’s the lowest rate of suicide deaths in this age group since 2014.

State health leaders say the decrease in the youth suicide rate is not statistically significant, but it does indicate some of the things the state is doing to prevent suicides may be working.

“We're always hopeful when we start to see a decrease, that's an opportunity for us to understand which prevention strategies are working to share a message of hope,” said Dr. Lena Heilmann, director of the Office of Suicide Prevention at CDPHE.

Heilmann knows personally what it’s like to lose someone she loves to suicide, having lost her sister to suicide in 2012.

dr heilmann and her sister danielle.jpg
Dr. Lena Heilmann, the director of the Office of Suicide Prevention at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said her sister Danielle died from suicide in 2012.

“I know that whenever we look at data and datasets, we're really looking at human lives, impacted family members, and community members,” said Heilmann.

The Office of Suicide Prevention helps provide funding and training for suicide prevention programs across the state.

They’ve been expanding their reach into more schools in recent years.

“We work closely with our partners across the state because we all have a role to play,” said Heilmann.

dr heilmanns sister danielle died by suicide in 2012.jpg
"Every time suicide fatality data is released, I think it's really important for us to pause and reflect that the numbers we're seeing reflect real lives lost to suicide," said Dr. Heilmann, who lost her sister Danielle, pictured above, to suicide in 2012.

So far this year, 35 young people between the ages of 10 and 18 have died by suicide in Colorado, according to figures provided by the department.

Heilmann says adults should establish an open line of communication with the young people in their lives.

“One of the strongest protective factors in a young person's life is a trusted adult,” said Heilmann. “So it's really important that adults establish open communication with children and young people to ask about their emotions, their worries, and what gives them hope.”

Heilmann says LGBTQ+ youth, in particular, experience suicidal thoughts at higher rates than their straight peers.

Youth suicide rate in Colorado falls to lowest point in nearly a decade

"It's really important for us as adults to support our young people and support their identities," said Heilmann.

It can go a long way, she says, in preventing suicides among our youth.

Heilmann says people with suicidal thoughts may experience dramatic mood changes, express feelings of hopelessness, and their sleep patterns may change.

She says there is nothing wrong with asking someone directly if they are experiencing suicidal thoughts.

"There's sometimes a myth that asking that question will put the idea of suicide in someone's mind. And that's been heavily researched that that does not happen," said Heilmann.

Overall, among all age groups, Colorado has one of the higher rates of suicide deaths in the nation.

Heilman said this has been the historical trend in Colorado.

Last year, 1,287 people in Colorado died by suicide.

So far this year, 582 people have died by suicide among all age groups.

The suicide rate among all age groups in Colorado has been falling slightly since 2017.

State health officials say this decrease, like with the youth group, is not statistically significant. But they hope it indicates a sign of things to come.

New preliminary data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last week showed the U.S. set a new record for suicide deaths in 2022.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, free and confidential help is available.

You can speak to a trained mental health counselor 24/7 by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988.

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