Fewer older teens in Colorado died by suicide in 2022 than at almost any point in the past decade, but kids in early adolescence didn’t show the same improvement.
The annual Kids Count in Colorado report, released Tuesday, showed 56 people between 15 and 19 died by suicide in 2022, down from a high of 83 in 2020 — a 32% drop. After adjusting for population growth, the suicide rate for older teens was at its lowest level since 2014.
“It’s critical that Colorado keeps up the momentum,” said Charlie Veraza, advocacy manager at the Colorado Children’s Campaign, which partners with the Annie E. Casey Foundation to produce the annual report.
Younger teens’ suicide deaths remained roughly level year-over-year, though, with 17 fatalities among kids between 10 and 14 in 2022. The rate was down slightly from its 2018 high, when 25 children in that age group died by suicide.
It’s not clear why older and younger teens showed different trends, said Jackie Zubrzycki, director of communications at the Colorado Children’s Campaign.
The percentage of teens reporting they had seriously considered suicide, made a plan, or made an attempt has been roughly flat since 2015. In 2021, the most recent year with data, 17% of high school students in Colorado said they had seriously considered suicide, 13% said they had made a plan and 7% said they had attempted suicide.
In contrast, visits to emergency rooms by children and teens for self-harm more than tripled between 2016 and 2021, with 1,211 encounters reported in the most recent year. Not all self-harm is caused by suicide attempts, however, and there’s no way to know if parents might have been more inclined to seek help for injurious behavior in recent years.
The southwestern corner of the state had the highest reported rate of teen suicide, which was more than double the rate of the Colorado region that includes most of the Interstate 70 ski communities. The Denver metro area had the second-lowest rate.
More than 70% of teens who died by suicide were male, even though girls reported more thoughts of suicide, Veraza said in a webinar about the report. That likely reflects that boys were more likely to use a firearm if they made a suicide attempt, and that attempts using guns have higher odds of being lethal, he said.
Black youth were more likely to die by suicide, while the rates for white, Asian, Hispanic and multiracial teens weren’t significantly different from one another. The report didn’t include data on American Indian and Pacific Islander youth because of their small populations.
At least as of 2021, more than half of Colorado youth reported protective factors that decreased their risk of suicide: that they considered their stress levels manageable; that they could ask their guardians for help with a personal problem; that their parents monitor if they do their homework and attend school; that they feel they belong at school; and that they participate in some sort of extracurricular activity.
Only about one-quarter reported they regularly got at least eight hours of sleep, though.
At least one in 10 reported a factor increasing their risk, though: that they used substances to cope with their feelings; that they had been bullied; that they felt unsafe at school; or that they could easily access a gun. One in five said they rarely felt comfortable talking to friends about their feelings.
“More young Coloradans have been letting us know they are struggling with their mental health,” Sarah Barnes, senior director of policy at the Colorado Children’s Campaign, said in a news release. “Colorado leaders must take steps to create communities that support our young people, including by bolstering the mental health workforce in and out of schools, ensuring families can meet their basic needs, and prioritizing the agency and wisdom of young people in policy and program development.”
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