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Report from CDC on suicide advises parents to limit screen time and gun access

SALT LAKE CITY — The Center for Disease Control recently released a report, looking into some of the trends the rising rate of youth suicide in Utah. Among them, guns and access to their devices.

Teresa Brechlin, with the Utah Department of Health’s (UDOH) violence injury prevention program, said they’ve been gathering data around Utah’s teen suicides since 2005. Recently, they noticed an alarming rise.

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“Between 2011 and 2015 it had increased 141 percent,” she said.

At the same time the national rate increased by about 24 percent.

The trend drove UDOH to ask CDC epidemiologists to look over the data and report any indicators they could find. They came down last March and poured through years of data.

“Whereas this investigation could not identify specific factors driving the increase in suicide among Utah youths, across multiple data sources, mental health, relationship problems, family conflicts, and experience of other forms of violence were common among Utah youths who died by suicide,” the CDC said in their final report, published on March 23rd.

The report warned that teens with obvious signs of moodiness or depression should be helped, but added that mental health professional should rethink their approaches since 84 percent of the teens who committed suicide were actually getting help at the time.

Researchers also warned that many of the teenagers were in the middle of conflicts with loved ones at the time of their death. In several of the cases they said the teenager was given technology restrictions that may have made them feel cut off from the world and everyone they care about.

“Additional research is needed to understand the implications of this finding, including the extent to which it represents interruption to social support networks, distress over losing access to the device, confounding with the reason for punishment (e.g., poor grades), or other factors,” the report reads.

Brechlin said dependency on social media or technology devices is a serious concern for the health department. She urged parents to take a proactive effort in limited access early on, instead of cutting off access completely when the child misbehaves.

“Being involved in their screen-time usage so they understand there’s going to be some regulations around it,” Brechlin said. “For many kids that is more than just a phone, it’s a way to connect with people outside.”

Brechlin said they warned that populations of homeless teens and LGBTQA teenagers were at high risk for suicide, along with teenagers who have easy access to guns, and kids with a dependency on social media or technology.

The CDC also encouraged parents to keep guns away from teens, warning that suffocation and firearm deaths were by far the most common way to attempt suicide. And more than 83 percent of the teens accomplished the suicide in their own homes.

Brechlin said in their own studies they’ve learned teenagers often have access to guns in their home, even when they are locked up. She advised parents to keep those out of reach of kids at all ages, especially if they are struggling with mental illness.

You can find the full report here.