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CU Anschutz is working to curb suicidal thoughts and behavior among teen girls

An illustration shows a girl with long hair holding someone's hand with a dark background and a swirling purple light around the held hand
Maria Fabrizio
Suicide prevention experts and survivors of suicide attempts say the best way to help someone at risk is to start a conversation about suicide and help the person find the right kind of help.

Three in five teenage girls reported feeling sad or hopeless in 2021. That’s according to the latestreport from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those are some of the highest figures seen in a decade.

Another figure cited in the report revealed that nearly a third of teenage girls said they considered attempting suicide in 2021 — up 60% since 2011.

Kerry Peterson, a psychiatric nurse practitioner at the University of Colorado Anschutz College of Nursing, said the issues around suicide stem from several factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic that left many teenage girls feeling isolated.

“There’s also a lot of social and cultural issues taking place in society today that teen girls have to worry about,” said Peterson. “It’s a combination of loneliness, bullying and violence in schools. We do know that the COVID-19 pandemic amplified those problems and made things worse.”

Peterson also said social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram made teen girls feel as if they’re not having meaningful in-person connections with their peers, which can also lead to suicidal thoughts.

“They see a lot of unhealthy images and messages on those platforms,” said Peterson. “It makes them try to live up to such unrealistic expectations and that can be very problematic.”

Peterson said she’s working with her staff at the CU AnschutzMedicalCampus to educate parents on how to spot the warning signs. She’s also looking to attract more students to the College of Nursing's psychiatric nurse practitioner program.

“We need to consider that children who may have, or are experiencing, mental health issues are not getting the treatment that they need,” said Peterson. “Part of our mission is to share the services we are offering to those who want to help meet those demands. We are here to help in as many ways as possible."

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide or is in crisis, call or text988 to reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

I serve as the afternoon host for KUNC’s All Things Considered. My job is to keep our listeners across Northern Colorado informed on the day’s top stories from around the communities we serve. On occasion, I switch roles and hit the streets of northern Colorado digging up human interest stories or covering a major event that’s taking place in our listening area.
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