SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — Suicide is currently the leading cause of death for Utahns ages 10-17. Gov. Spencer Cox has declared May 1 “Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day” in Utah, highlighting the special attention needed for this issue.

National research shows Utah is one of the states with the highest rates of youth mental health disorders, and has the highest prevalence of youth with untreated mental health needs. Additionally, Utah’s overall suicide rate (per 100,000 citizens) is nearly double the national rate.

In fact, Utah’s youth suicide rate has tripled in the last decade alone, according to the Utah Dept. of Health.

Research also shows a “measurable link between unmet mental health needs in a child’s earliest years and lifetime outcomes,” including “lower rates of high school graduation, college attendance, and employment, as well as higher rates of poverty, homelessness, and involvement in the criminal justice system.”

Data from the National Survey of Children’s Health shows that more than one in six children in Utah ages 0‒17 have experienced two or more of the following adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, which examine stressors a child experiences in relation to diminished health and well-being outcomes both immediately, and later as adults:

  • Economic hardship
  • Parental divorce or separation
  • Living with someone who had a substance use disorder
  • Being a victim or witness to neighborhood violence
  • Living with someone who had a mental illness
  • Had serious thoughts of suicide, or was severely depressed
  • Being a witness to domestic violence
  • Having a parent serve jail time
  • Being treated or judged unfairly due to race/ethnicity
  • Experiencing the death of a parent

The Children’s Center Utah, an organization that “provides comprehensive mental health care to enhance the emotional well-being of infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and their families,” as outlined in their mission statement, is working on fighting this problem.

The organization says early intervention and increased mental health services are key. Their mission is to provide “trauma-informed, evidence-based mental health care treatment” to young ones and caregivers alike.

“Mental healthcare is such an important part of a person’s overall well-being and children are not exempt from this need,” says The Children’s Center Utah president and CEO Rebecca Dutson. “We invite everyone in our great state to take a moment to consider a child they know, check on their mental health, and find ways to build their resiliency and positivity.”

In October 2022, 144 state and national organizations called upon President Biden to declare a federal emergency for childhood mental health, a release states.

A letter signed by the coalition reportedly outlined “a robust and comprehensive mental health workforce strategy,” noting that only 4% of psychiatrists in the U.S. specialize in pediatric care, despite research on how vital mental health services can be for youth.

“Mental health problems can affect anyone, including our children and youth,” says Gov. Cox. “It’s time to prioritize the importance of mental health and raise awareness about the challenges our children can face. Let’s all make a commitment to support those struggling with mental, emotional, or behavioral issues and create a more compassionate and resilient community.”

In addition to the risk of suicide, research shows the national cost estimates of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders among youth reportedly amount to $247 billion per year in mental health and health services, lost productivity, and crime.