El Paso County tops the state in youth suicide numbers. How did we fare during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic? The media reports from a couple of weeks back were alarming. There were multiple reports indicating that teen suicide numbers had doubled or drastically increased.
The El Paso County Public Health (EPCPH) Department dashboard shows COVID-19 has been responsible for 3 deaths in the 10-19 age range since March of 2020. Figuring out the numbers for suicide was much more difficult, though. To get to the bottom of it required a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request.
As a result of the CORA, El Paso County Coroner Dr. Leon Kelly directly emailed us with the information we requested. Here is what we learned: in the 12 months immediately preceding COVID-19, there were 15 suicides in the 10-19 age range. Dr. Kelly reports that in the 12 months since the start of COVID-19, there have been 18 suicides in this same age range. That is an increase year over year, but it is not a doubling of the numbers.
Additionally, Dr. Kelly shared that, “overall suicide numbers for all age groups stayed essentially the same over 2019 to 2020 but I will say our (over all age groups) drug deaths jumped significantly from 130 in 2019 to 186 in 2020.”
To summarize, since March 2020 in the 10-19 age range, there were:
3 deaths from COVID
Plus, and increase in drug deaths among all age groups.
Let’s be clear —even one death from suicide, COVID-19, or drug death is one too many. Our intent isn’t to diminish anyone’s suffering. Our intent is to share accurate data with readers, because of the differences in numbers reported. Then, based on that data, we can form an opinion and ask our public servants for a plan and a solution.
So, what should our public servants do?
Our request of the El Paso County Commissioners is for them to focus on the health needs of the 10-19 age group. Commissioners need to ask the tough questions of the state and county public health departments. Youth mental health needs aren’t being met.
Is remote learning in the best interest of this age group? Just last week Colorado Springs School District 11 went to remote learning again. Their sport seasons were halted, too.
COVID-19 isn’t the biggest threat to this age group —there were only 3 COVID-attributable deaths. Suicide is a bigger threat —with 18 suicides in that same time frame. Continued, repeated isolation of our youth needs to stop. Currently, the school districts isolate kids due to potential COVID-19 exposures. Even if the symptomatic student tests negative for the virus, all students who came in contact with that individual are required to quarantine. That is simply unreasonable.
At this point, teachers, administrators, and parents have all had the opportunity to receive the vaccine. Let’s leave it up to the parents to decide between remote and in-person education for their children. Government makes a lousy parent. The practice of treating youth as if they are elderly nursing home residents needs to stop.
Holly Williams – HollyWilliams@elpasoco.com
Carrie Geitner- CarrieGeitner@elpasoco.com
Stan Vanderwerf- firstname.lastname@example.org
Longinos Gonzalez- LonginosGonzalezJr@elpasoco.com
Cami Bremer- CamiBremer@elpasoco.com