A task force that studied the increasing youth suicide rate in Kansas released its final report and recommendations Tuesday to improve the state’s response.
The Youth Suicide Prevention Task Force says youth suicide is a major public health issue, and the state needs to take immediate action.
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt and the Tower Mental Health Foundation created the task force last year in response to rising numbers of Kansas youth attempting and dying by suicide. The number of suicides by Kansans 18 years of age and younger more than doubled between 2005 and 2015.
The report says this increase coincides with an increase of death by suicide across all age groups. Kansas is fifth in the nation in the rise of its per capita rate of death by suicide over the last 17 years. Death by suicide increased 45 percent in Kansas over that time period, compared with the national average increase of 25.4 percent.
“Childhood should not be a life or death experience. Unfortunately, the youth suicide statistics show that too often right now it is,” Task Force Co-chair Jennifer Schmidt said in a news release. “We are proud to offer these recommendations as next steps Kansas can take to reduce, and hopefully eradicate, youth suicide in Kansas.”
Recommendations include improving coordination between state and local officials, increasing communication and sharing of data, increasing availability of mental health services and offering youth suicide prevention training in schools.
The report says developing an app that can be installed on both cellphones and computers as a communication tool would be a helpful resource.
The task force is also calling for the state to add a full-time coordinator within the attorney general’s office to create and support youth suicide awareness and prevention efforts.
The report is based on testimony from people affected by youth suicide and experts working in prevention and response. The task force conducted public hearings at seven locations around the state between June and December last year.
The Mental Health Task Force appointed by the Kansas Legislature in 2017 also has recommendations to reverse suicide trends.
In a report presented to lawmakers in January, the task force called on the state to create and fund a full-time suicide prevention coordinator, and budget between $700,000 and $1.4 million to support the implementation of evidence-based strategies, including the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in Kansas (a free hotline available 24/7) and a text line.