Suicide watch
Taking care with vulnerable teens
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Some teenagers' lives are intolerable. Their self images are fragile, and they crave acceptance by their peers above almost anything else. So when classmates taunt and tease or constantly snub them, some teens are not able to cope with the rejection.

In Utah, more often than in other states, such abused teenagers end their short lives when they can't see an end to their pain.

The pages of this newspaper all too often contain stories about bullied teens who commit suicide, and those stories represent a tiny sample of the astonishing number of young Utahns who attempt and, all too often, succeed in taking their own lives. Two youths are treated for attempting suicide every day in Utah, according to the latest report by the Utah Department of Health.

One of those who made the news pages was 14-year-old David Phan, who shot himself in front of some classmates outside Bennion Junior High School in Taylorsville on Nov. 29.

Phan left no note to explain why he committed suicide, but some students at Bennion told reporters they knew he had been bullied by his peers at school. There are many reasons young Utahns take their lives. Some students are bullied because they are gay. Others, like Phan, who was Vietnamese, are of minority ethnic backgrounds.

Some suicide victims suffer more from mental illness than from bullying. Family circumstances are sometimes to blame.

But rejection by their peers is a major contributing factor that is especially tragic because it is preventable.

In a 2011 Utah Department of Health survey: 26 percent of Utah high school students reported feeling sad/hopeless; 14 percent had seriously considered attempting suicide; 12 percent made a suicide plan; 7 percent attempted suicide one or more times; and 3 percent had suffered an injury because of a suicide attempt that had been treated by seeking medical help.

A Granite School District spokesperson said a school counselor had talked to Phan earlier, but no one had reported recently that he was a victim of bullying. Yet, people at the school knew; someone always knows.

Yes, teachers have more than they can do already, but they are the first line of defense for vulnerable students. Any signs of bullying should be immediately reported, and principals and counselors should respond quickly and continue to follow up.

The lives of young Utahns are at stake.