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FOR RELEASE: February 13, 2001
CONTACT: Dick Gunn

Youth Suicide Prevention Plan Offered to State Policymakers

A recent report on high-risk behavior among Oklahoma's youth found that 22.4 percent of middle school and high school students surveyed had made a suicide plan within the last 12 months, compared to 14.5 percent of students of similar age nationwide.

This alarming statistic is not a surprise to members of the Oklahoma Youth Suicide Prevention Task Force, created in 1999 by passage of House Joint Resolution 1018. In a report presented to the governor and Oklahoma Legislature last month, the task force noted that in the past decade, there have been dramatic and disturbing increases in reports of suicide among children. In Oklahoma, suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth ages 15 to 19.

The task force has developed a state plan to combat this problem by suggesting “multi-level strategies” that communities can customize based on available resources and expertise. These strategies focus on building local community resources to provide assistance to youth in need and to build on resources that youth already have, including coping skills and problem-solving skills. The plan also calls for increased prevention, including training for adults in suicide prevention, building community networks of individuals who are trained to serve as a safety net for youth, and screening programs that identify youth at risk for suicide.

The final level of the plan deals with crisis management and counseling services following a suicide death or attempt. This issue addresses the needs of those directly affected by the event and looks at reducing the likelihood that additional suicide will follow.

The plan addresses a wide range of specific recommendations, including:

  • Health officials should explain the carefully established, scientific basis for their concern about suicide contagion (one suicide prompts others) and how responsible news media reporting can assist suicide prevention.
  • Oklahoma's health care system should be expanded to increase coverage for mental illnesses, particularly among children and youth, in both public and private sectors.
  • Parental education should be encouraged on the safe handling and storage of firearms and other potentially lethal weapons in the home.
    Parents, law enforcement, school personnel and community business leaders should ensure that alcohol remains inaccessible to youth under the age of 21.
  • Schools should be encouraged to consider “adopt a doctor” or “adopt a nurse” programs to connect with mental health professionals who can provide assistance in youth mental illness and suicide prevention.
  • State agencies that provide services to youth should coordinate their efforts on youth suicide prevention at all levels.

For more information on the task force's recommendations, contact James Allen at 405/271-4471. Youth Suicide Prevention: A State Plan for Oklahoma can be accessed by visiting the Oklahoma State Department of Health's Web site at www.health.state.ok.us/program/ahd/index.html.


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