Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among Arizonans ages 15-34, according to a 2019 study attributing the toll to such things as exposure to social media, harassment and the pressure to succeed.
The study, by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said there were 1,327 deaths by suicide in Arizona last year. Nationwide, there were 47,173 suicides in 2019, the study said.
Since July 2017, at least 40 East Valley teens and preteens have lost their lives to suicide – the latest a 16-year-old junior at Skyline High School in Mesa who fatally shot himself at an airport in Fort Wayne, Indiana, on Jan. 4.
The State Department of Human Services also this month reported of 1,510 suicides in 2018 statewide, 18 children under 15 took their lives and 202 between 15 and 24 ended theirs.
In response to those deaths, the State Legislature passed a bill requiring suicide prevention awareness and training for all school staffers who have any contact with children and teens in grades 6-12. That law takes effect in the next school year.
Gilbert Mayor Jenn Daniels is leading a bold suicide prevention effort, begining with a survey of students in all public and private schools in the town.
The questionnaire – aimed at developing data reflecting the major stressors on kids – is still being developed by school officials and others, including suicide-prevention advocate Katey McPherson.
Research indicates biology may put young people at greater risk of suicide.
The World Health Organization says half of all mental health problems begin by age 14, and most cases are undetected and untreated.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry notes the developing brains of teenagers act differently from adult brains when making decisions and solving problems.
Researchers also say teenagers act impulsively and engage in risky behavior, guided more by emotion than by thought, even when they know the difference between right and wrong, the academy said.
Dr. Esad Boskailo, a psychiatrist at Valleywise Health Medical Center in Phoenix, said depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse are some of the most common mental health disorders associated with suicide.
The Arizona chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is among the groups raising funds and organizing walks to strengthen prevention efforts, with the goal of reducing the annual suicide rate 20 percent by 2025.
The next event is a rally at the State Capitol on Feb. 3.
“It gives individuals who have been affected by suicide a way to connect and really get a sense of hope,” said Cori Frolander, Arizona area director of the foundation.
With its November Out of the Darkness Community Walk in Phoenix, Frolander said, the foundation has exceeded its 2019 fundraising goal of $200,000.
The foundation implemented a program in high schools around the nation specifically aimed at educating teachers, parents and students to recognize the signs of depression and other mental disorders, such as anxiety, loss of interest, irritability, agitation and anger, that could lead to suicide.
Boskailo advises a four-step routine for those afflicted with these problems.
“The first and most important is an appointment with a professional,” he said. “Then, have them give a call to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Next, having a supportive person spend time with them and check on them is essential. Finally, someone must be called upon to remove any firearms or other hazards in the home.”
Boskailo reiterated the importance of the removal of firearms from the household.
“One who has lost hope for life and doesn’t see any future and doesn’t have control of their stressors, has only one control left – whether they stay alive or not,” Boskailo said.