Washington State Grapples With Teenage Suicides



Across the U.S., 1 in 9 adolescents ages 12 to 17 had at least one major depressive episode in the last year, according to a report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Of the 10 states with the highest rates, four were in the West: Oregon, Arizona, Utah and Washington state. Oregon ranked first, with nearly 15 percent of teens reporting major depressive episodes. Washington state ranked seventh, with 12 percent.

Researchers defined a major episode as a depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities that lasted for two weeks or more, accompanied by symptoms such as difficulty sleeping, eating or concentrating.

The issue has long been on the radar for Washington state officials, who note that the state has had a suicide rate higher than the national average every year since 1980.

In 2014, Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill that called on the state’s Department of Health to create a suicide prevention plan for people of all ages. The state released the plan in January, when the governor also signed an executive order requiring the department to begin its implementation.

An average of two adolescents kill themselves every week in Washington state, with 17 others attempting suicide, according to the Youth Suicide Prevention Program in Seattle. And the state’s report found that 20 percent of the state’s 10th-graders had seriously considered suicide in the previous 12 months.

While a wide mix of possibilities can influence suicidal behaviors, the report said the risk factors of childhood trauma, substance abuse, poverty and untreated mental health problems all were common in Washington state.

Among other things, the report called for better screening of those at risk for depression and suicide and a marketing campaign to raise public awareness.

“Directly talking about suicide will help us work against the barriers caused by stigma and solve this urgent health problem,” the Health Department said in its report.

The number of suicides is highest in small towns and rural areas, but the story has become a familiar one almost everywhere.