State Sen. Julia Kirt, D-Oklahoma City, and Senate Democratic Leader Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, held a joint interim study Tuesday analyzing pediatric suicide rates in the state, to discover policy changes or prevention services that could decrease suicide in Oklahoma’s youngest citizens.
According to the Oklahoma State Department of Health, suicide is the leading cause of death for 10- to 17-year-olds. Because Oklahoma has double the national rate of suicides, Kirt said the Legislature must look at every outlet to turn these outcomes around.
“Youth suicide was already a pressing issue in our state – and coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic – it’s a problem we must address,” Kirt said. “Our presenters shared a wealth of data showing a troubling picture of pediatric suicide in Oklahoma. Our children are our most precious asset, and we must address the underlying problems that are causing our suicide numbers to spike.”
Data recently collected by the Oklahoma Violent Death Reporting System showed 40 percent of suicidal children aged 0-17 had one or more diagnosed or treated mental health problem, including depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, PTSD or ADHD. Additionally, 35 percent reported a current depressed mood, 28 percent had a school problem, and 25 percent had an intimate partner problem.
“Early detection of mental health or personal issues is vital to preventing the devastating outcome of pediatric suicide,” Floyd said. “We must help our parents, teachers and other adults know what to look for and what to do if suicidal thoughts and potential action are detected.”
Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse (ODMHSA) Commissioner Carrie Slatton-Hodges said the Legislature made good progress in 2021, passing several legislative measures to increase awareness for pediatric suicide, like Senate Bill 21, authored by Floyd, which requires school boards adopt suicide awareness trainings for staff.
However, Kirt said there’s more the Legislature could do to decrease youth suicide in the state.
“We must continue to fund prevention programs to ensure our youth are getting the help and services they need before drastic actions are taken,” Kirt said. “In addition, these services must be equitable for all struggling with mental health episodes. I look forward to working with my colleagues to implement bipartisan ideas and initiatives to address our rising suicide rates in Oklahoma.”