49 Teen Suicides in Arizona were Preventable

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Suicide is Preventable

Forty-nine Arizona children died by suicide in 2020, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services (AZDHS).

The Child Fatality Review Team at AZDHS, which investigates the deaths of all children who die in Arizona, ruled 100% of those suicides preventable.

In December 2021, the Surgeon General’s Office released an advisory about the mental health of America’s youths—and there are some serious trends that we need to address as a community.

What We Know

According to a Youth Risk Behavior Report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one in three high school students said they had experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness during the past year that interfered with their regular activities—a 40% increase since 2009 (26% to 37%).

In that same report from the CDC, Arizona high school students reported the third-highest levels of feeling sad or hopeless compared to all other states. Almost half of female students reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, and nearly 70% of students with same-sex partners report these feelings.

In 2019, approximately one in six students reported making a suicide plan during the preceding year, a 44% increase since 2009.

A set of squares containing facts from the CDC's Youth Risk Behavior Report. The three findings highlighted are: 1. More than one in three high schoolers felt persistently sad and/or hopeless in the past year. 2. Arizona high school students report the third-highest levels of sadness/hopelessness. 3. Nearly half of female students and 70% of students with same-sex partners felt persistently sad/hopeless.

A Common Misconception

Did you know, that contrary to popular belief, suicides do not increase around the holidays?

In fact, in Arizona, we see the biggest increase in calls to the Teen Lifeline suicide prevention hotline, and the biggest increase in suicides, during the weeks between spring break and the end of the school year in May.


What’s Being Done

State leaders have put safeguards for teens into place, including:

  • The Mitch Warnock Act that went into effect this school year. It requires all Arizona school staff who interact with students in grades 6 through 12 to participate in suicide prevention training at least once every three years.
  • Additional legislation that began this year requires all student identification cards to have suicide hotline phone numbers printed on the cards.
  • Jake’s Law, which was passed by the legislature with unanimous support and was signed by Governor Ducey in 2020, increases access to mental health care for teens.


What You Can Do

Government action alone won’t prevent all suicides. Everyone who interacts with teenagers can help.

Please consider taking the following steps to prevent teen suicide in your family and neighborhood:

  • Be a good role model. Take care of your own mental and physical health. Show that it’s a priority to take care of yourself – using healthy coping skills and reaching out for help when needed.
  • Encourage healthy relationships. Research shows a stable and committed relationship with a supportive adult, whether that’s a parent, family member, teacher, or friend, is the most important thing a child needs to increase their resilience.
  • Watch for warning signs. Irritability, anger, and withdrawal are giveaways. Changes in thoughts, appearance, performance at school, sleeping or eating patterns, and behavior can all signify something is amiss. If you notice something concerning, make sure they know you are able to provide support. Remember: these signs are often a way that teenagers reach out for help.

Warning Signs of Suicide

These behaviors can all signify something is amiss. If you notice something concerning, make sure they know you are able to provide support. Remember: these signs are often a way that teenagers reach out for help.

Learn more about the warning signs of suicide in our resources.

  • Irritability/anger

  • Withdrawal/isolation from friends, family, and activities they enjoy

  • Major changes in thoughts and behaviors

  • Abnormal changes in appearance

  • Reduced performance at school

  • Irregular sleeping and/or eating patterns

For a full list of ways you can help improve the mental health of teens in your community, visit the Surgeon General’s resource, Protecting Youth Mental Health.

For free and confidential help, teens can call Teen Lifeline 24/7/365 at (602) 248-TEEN (8336) or (800) 248-TEEN. Teens can also text the hotline at (602) 248-8336 between the hours of noon and 9 p.m. on weekdays and 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. on weekends.

The author of this article, Nikki Kontz, LMSW, is the Clinical Director at Teen Lifeline, a Phoenix-based nonprofit dedicated to preventing teen suicide in Arizona. Contact her at nikki@teenlifeline.org or 602-248-8337.

This article was originally published in the December 2021 print edition of The Arizona Republic as part of a monthly column where Teen Lifeline discusses important youth mental health topics. To read Teen Lifeline’s most recent column pieces, please refer to the print edition of The Arizona Republic.