There is no hiding the truth that suicides among teens in Arizona are increasing. The Arizona Child Fatality Review (CFR) Program was established to review factors in a child’s death and determine ways to reduce or eliminate any identified preventable fatalities. Legislation passed in 1993 (A.R.S. § 36-342, 36- 3501-4) authorizing the creation of the CFR Program.
According to The National Center for Fatality Review and Prevention, data collection and case reviews began in 1994 for Arizona and since 2005, the CFR Program has investigated the death of every individual under the age of 18 and has issued an annual report to summarize its findings.
In 2018, Arizona suicide rate was 12 per 100,000 deaths compared to the national average of 8. Arizona’s suicide rate rose from 10 in 2016 to 12 in 2018, while the national average remained similar during the same respective years. What’s equally disturbing is the disproportion of native-American teen suicide rate that was a whopping 26 per 100,000 deaths for 2018, compared to other ethnic groups.
Legislators must act
Whatever is behind the spike in teen suicide in Arizona, it is up to our legislators to remain vigilant and aware of the needs of our communities. It is their responsibility to fight for our communities. The integrity of life is essential and our political leaders must utilize legislation to drive solutions for our communities. We must vote in favor of legislation that puts life first and not vote or introduce legislation that frustrates that purpose.
Many researchers have suggested that the cause of suicide deaths amongst teens are related to parent neglect, failure to identify substance abuse issues or their child’s social inequality. There is no question that parent involvement in their teen’s life does have a direct impact on the teen’s mental state. However, to tackle this issue parents need help. Politics have shaped the minds of communities for generations. Today is no different. Political leaders need to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. Communities are shaped by the rules, regulations and its leaders.
There is hope! There are Democrats taking on this challenge. For example, Democrat Senator Sean Bowie D-18, sponsored SB1468, which would provide suicide prevention training for guidance counselors, teachers, principals, and school personnel. The bill passed the state House and had its second reading in the Senate. Both East Valley Senators David Farnworth (R) D-16 and Eddie Farnsworth (R) D-12 voted against the bill.
In the East Valley alone 31 teenagers have committed suicide in less than 2 years and 5 of those suicides occurred after August of 2018. The youngest child to commit suicide so far was only 11 years old. Despite the bipartisan support in the Senate, the bill has not been assigned to a committee for a fair hearing by Speaker Russell Bowers (R) D-25 in the House.
Democratic bills protect children
Meanwhile, Senator Sean Bowie D-18, along with other Democrats continue to put forth bills to protect our children. For example, it is no secret that LGBTQ youth are at higher risk of suicide. Recent studies show that LGBTQ youth are more than 3 X as likely to attempt suicide versus their heterosexual peers. Democrats like Senator Quezada D-29 sponsors SB1415 which would create inclusive health education policies and eliminate the shaming of LGBTQ students in Arizona. SB1415 had its second reading on Feb. 6 in the state Senate.
As a response to the mass school shootings around the country, students took to the street to march and organized by making their voices loud and clear that they want comprehensive gun control, increased counselors in the classroom and legislation that will protect their lives. But in a 31-27 party-line vote, the Republican-controlled chamber passed HB2693 which would allow loaded guns on school grounds (in vehicles). This legislation seems irresponsible and arguably tone deaf to the trauma students may experience in response to this bill. The bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 14.
While the American School Counselor Association recommends a ratio of 250 students per counselor, Arizona has 924 students per counselor. Democrats like Jennifer Pawlik (D-17) announced HB2562, which would lower student to counselor ratios and fund additional counselors in our public schools along with Senate companion bill SB1344 introduced by Senator Bowie that would gradually lower student to counselor ratio to the national average. The bill had its second reading in the Senate.
It’s no secret that teenagers commit suicide when they have problems at home. We must do whatever we can to stop teenagers from committing suicide. We can help by passing the right legislation. Committing suicide is one of the most serious problems for teenagers today. Instead of only focusing on what parents can do. How about we concentrate on what are Arizona leaders can do to have a direct impact on teen success. Passing legislation that reduces the counselor-student ratio in the classroom is a great start. Teen life contributes to the preservation of all mankind and party affiliation should not make a difference, yet it is clear with the bills discussed that Democrats are leading the charge.