Teen Suicide in Utah – My Elder’s Quorum Lesson Today

John Dehlin Mormon, Mormon Stories

Today, Deseret News began a multi-part series on Teen Suicide in Utah. Some of the statistics were surprising to me:

  • Every 11 days a Utah teen commits suicide
  • Utah leads the nation in suicide among men 15-24
  • Utah has the 11th highest overall suicide rate in the nation
  • The Utah youth suicide rate has tripled over the last few years
  • Suicide is the #1 cause of death among Utah teens

Since today’s Elder’s Quorum was on death & resurrection, I decided to teach a lesson on depression and suicide in the church. My sources were:

A few notes from my lesson:

Who is at risk for suicide?

  • Someone experiencing a recent death in the family (or close friend).
  • Males (4x more likely to succeed in a suicide attempt), though femails attempt more often.
  • Those strugging w/ gender identity/homosexuality (1/3 of all cases in Utah)
  • Families with history of mental illness
  • Youth who tend to get into lots of trouble
  • Substance abusers (alcohol is a depressant, and makes things worse)
  • Those who feel hopeless & isolated
  • Those with extremely high expectations (“pefect child”)

What are the Signs?

  • Sleeping problems (insomnia or sleeping too much)
  • Changes in appetite and in weight (losing weight, or gaining weight)
  • Social withdrawl/isolation
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • High amounts of guilt
  • Loss of interest in personal appearance
  • “Crying Jags”
  • Substance abuse
  • High risk behavior
  • Making “final arrangements”–saying goodbye, apologizing, etc.

Cause

  • 90% of cases reported to be associated w/ mental illness, and 90% of mental illness has a genetic component
  • Stress/pressure/guilt can trigger
  • Isolation

Prevention

  • Talk about it
  • Seek professional help
  • Be accepting and non-judgmental
  • Exercise, eat right
  • Increase exposure to sunlight
  • Encourage “early to bed, early to rise”
  • Provide a stable home
  • Remove guns & firearms from house
  • React in a low-key manor
  • Avoid “pat answers” (gospel related)
  • Encourage hobbies

A few of my favorite quotes:

  • “Dr. Daley, who has counseled scores of members coping with mental illness and depression, explained that one of hte general myths among Church members is that, “If I am righteous enough, I will not have depression.” There are many, many righteous members of the Church who are keeping the commandments and they’re doing everything right every day. They’re temple recommend worthy and they suffer from horrible, clinical, diagnosable, symptomatic depression.”
  • “Certainly sin can cause depression, but the absence of sin does not prevent people from having the experience of depression.”
  • LDS Church States, “Each year, a certain number of CHurch members take their own lives. Many of these deaths could be prevented by a better understanding of the problems of suicide.”
  • Elder Ballard: “Obviously, we do not know the full circumstances surrounding every suicide. Only the Lord knows all the details, and he it is who will judge our actions here on earth. When he does judge us, I feel he will take all things into consideration: our genetic and chemical makeup, our mental state, our intellectual capacity, the teachings we have received, the traditions of our fathers, our health, and so forth.”
  • “Learn to accept and love your child for who she/he is. Recognize and show that you value your child’s unique qualities and the activities that are important to him/her. Lift. Praise. Don’t criticize.”

My Least Favorite Quote:

  • From 1958 Edition of Mormon Doctrine by Bruce R. McConkie: “Suicides. See Murderers. Suicide is murder, pure and simple, and murderers are damned. There is no more justification for self-murder than for the wilful destruction of another. There is a common and supposedly compassionate tendency on the part of many to reason that all who commit suicide must be mentally unbalanced and that therefore they are not accountable for their crimes…..But the great probability is that nearly all self-murderers–though they may be depressed an mentally ill–do in fact know right from wrong, the same as most killers do. No murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.”