Add To Favorites

County official: ‘Our youths are struggling’

Topeka Capital Journal - 10/22/2019

Hundreds of young people have received suicide-related medical treatment in recent years in Shawnee County, says Lien Le, epidemiologist for Shawnee County's health department.

Sixteen residents ages 10

to 24 died of suicide in 2017-2018 in Shawnee County while the county saw “at least 803 suicide-related emergency department visits” among people in that age group, Le said in an article published recently in the health department’s “EPI-SURVeillance” newsletter.

Suicide rates for Kansas and Shawnee County since 2008 have consistently been higher than the national suicide rate, Le told county commissioners Bill Riphahn, Kevin Cook and Aaron Mays at their morning meeting Thursday.

“Our youths are struggling,” she said.

Cook said he would like to know whether specific geographic areas or social-economic groups are struggling more than others so special effort can be put toward reaching those demographics.

Le said she would like to know that too, but the data to which she has access is “very limited.”

Le’s newsletter article said the health department gathered information about suicides among people ages 10 to 24 in Shawnee County by analyzing death records provided by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s Bureau of Epidemiology and Public Health Information.

Those records show that between 2008 and 2017, 43 people in that age group died of suicide in Shawnee County, with more suicides occurring toward the end of the time period. Sixty percent of those were male while 40 percent were female, Le wrote.

“For every suicide death, there is an even greater number of suicide-related emergency room visits,” she added. “The (Shawnee County Health Department) utilized the Kansas Syndromic Surveillance Program to calculate the number of suicide-related emergency room visits among Shawnee County residents ages 10-24.”

The department found at least 803 such visits in 2017-2018, with 65 percent made by females and 35 percent by males, Le wrote.

Sixty-five percent of those visits were made by youths ages 10 to 19, and 35 percent by young people ages 20 to 24, she added.

The Family Service and Guidance Center here earlier this year formed a youth suicide prevention forum, for which members are “high school students from multiple schools within Shawnee County that come together to discuss and work on youth-led suicide prevention projects,” Le wrote.

She added: “The most recent youth-led project was a marketing campaign of the 7 Cups smartphone app within their schools. 7 Cups is a free online emotional support service to help teens ages 13-18 work through issues such as anxiety, depression, break-ups, etc.”

Primary care providers are uniquely positioned to address youth suicide because most adolescents still visit their primary care physician for their annual check-up, Le wrote.

She indicated providers can assist youth suicide prevention efforts by:

• Carrying out quick screenings for depression and suicidal tendencies.

• Referring at-risk patients to a behavioral health specialist.

• Following up with the patient and/or family members, and contin- uously monitoring the patient if a risk has been identified.

Tim Hrenchir, tim.hrenchir@cjonline.com