Teen Suicide Numbers Grow, But Lawmakers Disagree On Solutions

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<p>(Hart Van Denburg/CPR News)</p>
<p>The Colorado State Capitol.</p>
Photo: Colorado State House, State Capitol, December 2015, Southwest Corner, Side, Snow
The Colorado State Capitol.

Suicide is the leading cause of death among young people in Colorado. But Colorado lawmakers can't agree on what to do about it.

Here’s how one student described his particular school at a Capitol hearing:

“Every morning when I walk into school I pass a girl who, according to rumor, cuts herself. I eat lunch with one of my closest friends who recently started medication for his depression,” student Bertrand Li told state lawmakers. He’s a senior at D'Evelyn Junior-Senior High School in Lakewood. “I shared a classroom with a girl who attempted to commit suicide her sophomore year. This narrative could have come from the mouth of any teenager in Colorado.”

According to the latest data, 69 young people died of suicide in the last year we have data available. Those deaths are twice as likely among rural teens as those in urban areas. Related surveys from Colorado’s schools show that 30 percent of teens felt sad or hopeless every day for two or more weeks. Fourteen percent made a suicide plan in the past 12 months and 8 percent attempted suicide in the past 12 months.


Susan Marine, the head of advocacy at the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Colorado, who also sits on the state Suicide Prevention Commission, advocated for a bill that failed to pass earlier this year to put more suicide prevention training in schools. But during hearings around the issue of teen suicide, Republican Sen. Vicki Marble said that the bills Marine supported would create a "government bureaucracy’ but no solutions.

Read the text of the two failed suicide prevention bills, along with sponsors and votes, here: SB18-114 | SB18-1177

“The more problems we have in our schools the more government we lay on it, and the more programs that we make our school educators responsible for. The more we do this, the more I’m convinced we’re wrong,” she said.

Marine spoke with Colorado Matters about the extent of teen suicide, the possible role that lawmakers and schools could play in addressing the issue, and how other state legislatures have acted.

She says 11 other states have recently passed some kind of legislation to mandate annual training, and 16 mandate training for schools less often. The training includes learn about risk factors, signs and symptoms and how to make sure there’s follow through. Those trained include everyone from teachers, health care professionals and coaches to custodians and bus drivers.