Any time a child takes his or her own life, it is an unspeakable tragedy. Sadly, in the state of Arizona, such tragedies have been occurring with increasing frequency in recent years.
For the past 23 years, Arizona’s Child Fatality Review Program (CFR) has investigated the death of every individual under the age of 18 and has issued an annual report to summarize its findings. The 2016 version of this report, which was released November 15, revealed that the suicide rate in the 18-and-under age group had increased by 26% from 2014 to 2015, continuing a heartbreaking trend that began in 2009. In the six-year period between 2009 and 2015, Arizona’s annual child suicide rate has increased by a stunning 81%.
The CFR report does not break down the youth suicide numbers by county, but other statistics strongly suggest that many of the young people who took their own lives did so in Maricopa County. For example, the report notes that, for at least the past five years, more than 55% of all deaths involving children and adolescents in Arizona occurred in Maricopa County, which is the most populous county in the state.
On November 27, the Arizona Republic published an editorial that described the CFR report as “an alarm bell … that represents a challenge to all those in the state who say the lives of children matter.” The editorial called on parents and schools to take greater steps to protect children and implored the state’s elected officials to allocate additional funding for a variety of programs, including behavioral healthcare, substance abuse treatment, the juvenile court system, and the Department of Child Safety.
As the editorial board of the Arizona Republic acknowledged, reducing suicide rates among children and adolescents is a complex challenge that requires a multi-pronged approach, including effective mental health care and substance abuse treatment.
Young people who experience suicidal ideation may be struggling with a variety of mental health disorders, including, but not limited to, bipolar disorder, depressive disorders, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If a child or adolescent who has one of these mental health disorders is also engaging in substance abuse, he or she may be at an even greater risk for suicidal thoughts and actions.
According to The Jason Foundation, a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to ending youth suicide, 90% of young people who commit suicide have struggled with addiction and/or a mental health disorder. More than half of all young people who kill themselves have abused alcohol or another drug, according to The Jason Foundation, and about 60% have struggled with depression.
Ensuring those young adults in Maricopa County and throughout the state of Arizona have access to effective professional care for substance abuse, addiction, and mental health disorders would be a significant step in the effort to reduce rates of youth suicide.