The suicide of nine-year-old Jamel Myles has put a spotlight on the growing number of youth suicides. Myles was a Denver elementary school student who had just started a new year of classes. His mother told The Denver Post he recently came out as gay and was being bullied at school.
While death for kids under the age of 14 is relatively rare, data from Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment shows suicide is the leading cause of death of kids between ages 10 and 14 in the state.
As KUNC has reported , the state is devoting resources to preventing student suicide. In the last year Colorado created a position to work specifically on the issue of youth suicide. Lena Heilmann holds that job, and she spoke with KUNC’s Kyra Buckley.
Kyra Buckley, KUNC: Do we know the factors behind the growing number of suicides?
Lena Heilmann, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment: Suicide is a very complex issue. There are always many factors that lead to suicide. With our youth numbers, we know that the numbers there are complex as well. Multiple factors can contribute, too -- “I am a young person having thoughts of suicide, attempting suicide, or going on to die by suicide.”
These numbers can be a little bit more challenging for LGBTQ youth because LGBTQ youth might be facing additional stressors, which could include bullying or discrimination or lack of resources.
Buckley: How is Colorado working to address bullying?
Heilmann: Here at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment we do work on lots of different approaches to preventing injury and violence, including bullying. But on a broader level what we really want is to make sure that people in Colorado feel connected to their communities that they have trusted people that they can go to when they're struggling with whatever it is. Communities are resilient and can provide resources and support for individuals for whatever they're facing. For youth, it’s particularly important to feel connected to a trusted adult.
Buckley: Is there anything that’s sometimes left out of the conversation?
Heilmann: I think it's really important to point out that although suicide is a leading cause of death in America, there are so many people who have lived through thoughts of suicide, suicidal behaviors and suicide attempts who do not die by suicide. Their stories are stories of hope and resiliency and struggles and coming out on the other side. Showcasing some of those stories of people who've been through those really hard times, and have used resources, whether they're professional resources or their communities or their loved ones, to come out of it and to lead lives of recovery -- those are the stories that are also important to be hearing.