Utah teen suicide on the rise

Story and photos by Tanner Kirk

SALT LAKE CITY – On Feb. 6, 2018 Sean Carne, a 19-year-old from Bountiful, Utah took his own life. According to friends, Sean was the “life of the party”, friendly, outgoing, loved by all, and he appeared to have life figured out; however, deep down he was struggling severely with depression. Many of his friends and family had little to no idea. “Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise”, read Sean’s obituary, a quote from Victor Hugo’s Les Miserable. In Utah, teen suicide has increased dramatically, particularly among youth ages 10-17 years old. Suicide is now the leading cause of death among Utah kids.


“The research supports the theory that public humiliation is directly related to suicide risk in teens”, says Michelle Paxton, a licensed clinical social worker in Utah. Some of the factors therapists consider in assessing the risks of teen suicide include, less attractive kids, cyber bullying, and homosexuality. Other factors might include, romanticization of suicide – through media, peers, books (such as “13 Reasons”), and suicide attempts of other teens that can be a “model” for peers to do the same when depressed.

“It’s just so sad, I would have never imagined losing these friends in this way. I wish I had known they were going through a hard time, I would have tried to reach out more”, says Hanna Vance, a student at Herriman High School who lost two friends from suicide in the last year. Most adolescent suicides occur at the home, usually after a day at school, most often by a gun or hanging. According to Paxton, girls are more likely to overdose than boys and most female suicides are precipitated by interpersonal conflicts.


The best indicator of suicidal intentions is a history of attempted suicides. Half of all completed suicides happen on the first attempt. People who attempt suicide a second time, are most likely to do so within three months of the first attempt. Drug and alcohol use are directly related to teen suicide, since teens frequently suffer from depression. Substance use/abuse only worsens depression. The opioid epidemic that is happening in this country is also playing a big part in the increase of suicide. Teens often access their parent’s prescription drugs, may purchase drugs illegally, as well as “work the system” with various doctors to prescribe for them. “Prescription drugs become a way to cope with and escape from emotions and problems”, says Paxton.  “Because the adolescent brain is still developing until the age of 23, abuse of prescription drugs is having serious, long lasting effects on teens that begin abusing drugs at earlier ages.”

According to Paxton’s years of experience, other warning signs include:

  • Low self esteem and hopelessness
  • Chronic, depressed mood with flat affect
  • Lack of desire to do things that normally brings joy and happiness
  • Selling or giving away items with great meaning to the teen
  • Severe, persistent insomnia and anxiety
  • Family history of suicide (children whose parents have committed suicide have a much higher risk of making suicide attempts)
  • Increased isolation from family and friends

–    Teens that have thoughts of wishing to be dead and wanting to end one’s life

Social media has posed a huge threat to teens today. Everyday millions of people are spending countless hours posting, liking, and commenting on these social media pages. Some of the negative effects of social media include, comparisons to those who are popular and attractive, feelings of inadequacy, and exposed individuals to online bullies and predators. Social media also exposes bad relationships, infidelity, torn families, and magnifies a teen’s feeling of low self-worth, according to Paxton.

Due to social media, if the teen has very few “followers” or postings with friends, comparisons to those who are popular increases that teen’s low self-worth. This is especially true if “secrets” are broadcast on social media such as homosexuality or bad break ups resulting in people taking the side of one person. Social media has created unrealistic expectations in one’s life. These expectations make the viewer feel insecure which may provoke the teen to do outrages things to get attention. The increased stress that this causes, along with bullying, suicide rates have risen dramatically, especially among teens.


“There is much that a community can do to help with teen suicide. Schools need to create required programs that teach teens how to cope and regulate their emotions, including how and where to find help. Schools need more counselors who are actively and more frequently counseling the students. With the access to counselors and having places to go where teens can receive free support is crucial. In addition to counselors, teens should have a list of suicide hotline numbers”, says high school teacher Annie Kirk.

“Learning to manage interpersonal conflict is critical. It’s easy to be happy with your life when all is going well, but most of what we have in life are difficult moments, and having the skills to cope with and manage life during those moments are what will make or break us”, says Paxton.

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