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El Paso County youth suicides increase in 2020; 3 teens had COVID as stated stressor

Suicides between ages of 11-17 increased from nine in 2019 to 15 in 2020
El Paso County youth suicides increase in 2020; 3 teens had COVID as stated stressor
Posted at 3:10 PM, May 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-27 08:07:41-04

EL PASO COUNTY — One teen suicide is one too many.

However, it is difficult to find someone who has not been impacted by such a tragedy. In Southern Colorado in 2020, that reach, unfortunately, grew, as youth suicides increased.

This story could be triggering for some people. If you need help right now, call Colorado Crisis Services at 1-844-493-8255.

According to the El Paso County Coroner's Annual Report for 2020, suicides among young people between the ages of 11-17 increased from nine in 2019 to 15 in 2020. Out of those 15 deaths, 12 were male, and three were female. The most commonly identified stressor is family discord, followed by school-related stress. Three of the teens had COVID-19 listed as a stated stressor. The majority of teen suicides in 2020 were caused by firearms.

CLICK HERE to read the entire report from the Coroner's Office. Child fatalities can be found on page 15.

Jill Davis is a Colorado Springs mother of four. Her kids are now adults, but as teenagers, two of them struggled with their mental health. Her youngest daughter, Gracie Packard, has shared her story through TEDxColoradoSprings in the past.

Davis' oldest son lives with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and called her when he was suffering from suicidal ideations. "He knew the person to call was me, because I would listen. I couldn't fix it, but I would listen to him. And all of the skills I gave him as a child, the way I got him through those three and a half hours of trying to find somebody to help him, I pulled out all his childhood books and read him books," said Davis, remembering a phone call she will never forget.

Her son spent three weeks recovering in a professional facility after that call. Unfortunately, that was not the first time suicide came close to Davis' life. "My first exposure to suicide is when I attempted suicide when I was 18... I was raised in a highly conservative evangelical home. I was the youngest of many kids, and I didn't think I could ever live up to the standards necessary... I didn't want to die, I just wanted the pain to stop," said Davis.

Davis left home after her suicide attempt, moved to Seattle, and found a therapist. She believes therapy has been critical in her mental health journey.

Her childhood shaped her parenting style. Davis said her own mother never had time to really listen, so she swore she would always lend an ear to her kids. "We have got to stop pressuring our kids to be perfect... A good life is messy, but a really good life is really messy, and we can always fix the mess," said Davis.

She said it was easier for her kids to write their feelings, rather than say them out loud.

Davis has a new podcast launching this weekend called The Storyteller's Porch. It focuses on stories surrounding the different generations of a family.

"Since it is preventable, we just have to look for some of the warning signs."
Dr. Juliana Deans, licensed professional counselor

Dr. Juliana Deans is a licensed professional counselor who has been working with children for around 20 years. She described some of the warning signs that may appear in teenagers contemplating suicide. Many of them could be related to changes in behavior, such as:

  • Isolation
  • Different conversations regarding friends
  • No longer excited about hobbies, sports, etc.
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Eating patterns
  • Having a hard time focusing

Dr. Deans said nonverbal communications speak the loudest. "They have an overwhelming feeling, and they don't know how to communicate it. They don't know how to get it out... Vulnerability is difficult for almost anybody and everybody," said Dr. Deans.

She emphasized that children who excel in certain areas could put too much pressure on themselves. With her own son, Dr. Deans asks him for two things that went wrong in his day, and two things that went right. She then shares her own moments, to teach him there is no such thing as a perfect day or person. "Have a day that's a relaxed day, and say hey, today we are going to mess up on purpose. We are going to have fun messing up, to let them know it is okay," said Dr. Deans, offering an example of a break from the perfectionist mindset of some teenagers.

Dr. Deans also said things like a break-up can be particularly hard on teenagers.

CLICK HERE to read a guide written by local parents about protecting youth from suicide. It was published by El Paso County Public Health.

She recommended parents prompt a conversation about mental health with their children. Asking open-ended questions can help. If adults are unsure where to start, Dr. Deans said there are many professionals who can help guide the dialogue. "Research shows most adolescents and most teenagers really want someone to reach out to them... We need to stop sweeping things under the rug and just waiting for the kids to initiate," said Dr. Deans.

Dr. Deans also stressed the importance of keeping both weapons and medications secured inside a home.

Dr. Deans said there can be long waitlists for child therapists and psychologists in El Paso County. She also believes the community lacks options for group therapy for teenagers.

CLICK HERE for a list of mental health resources in El Paso County, ranging from crisis centers to support services.

There is also the Youth Suicide Prevention Workgroup, a coalition of around 90 community partners dedicated to suicide prevention and supporting youth mental health.