Colorado’s kids are not alright.
Suicide is the leading cause of death in Colorado for people ages 10 to 24. Our state has the seventh-highest suicide rate in the country, and that was before we forced young people to separate from their schools, their friends and their hangouts in March.
There were at least 31 suicides among 10- to17-year-olds between March and August.
Thirty-one children killed themselves in Colorado over just FOUR months. Read that again. And again. That takes my breath away. Another shock and awe; the Colorado Attorney General’s Office recently said that for Colorado teens, suicide was “starting to seem normal in their communities.”
Nothing is normal about 31 of our children dying to suicide within a few months.
As a parent of three children about to enter their teens, these numbers keep me up at night with worry, especially since, like most parents, I don’t understand how to prevent it. It’s happening to all sorts of families, and there aren’t always warning signs.
Now layer the ongoing pandemic on top of those stats. Normal healthy and happy kids are unprepared for the perfect storm of having their routines upended, too much screen time, social isolation, and limited opportunities to spend time with friends. They are sad, confused and just lonely. But they are also stressed from the increased pressure on grades, friend drama and missing out (thanks to social media).
Spencer Smith, 16, died just last Friday in Maine, leaving a note to his parents saying he was struggling in school, felt stuck in the house, and was drifting from his friends.
Johnny Stack, 19, took his own life here in Colorado last fall after developing a marijuana dependency.
Hayden Hunstable, 12, of Ohio died by suicide in April. Hayden’s dad said in an interview he was not a depressed kid. He didn’t like the isolation that came with COVID-19.
Colorado’s experiment with commercialized weed isn’t helping our kids, either. THC, not alcohol, is the number one drug found in Colorado teens who died by suicide. Is this just coincidence? We have promoted all marijuana as medicine and as safe to use recreationally, even today’s new ultra-high THC products. No one wants children to use marijuana, but we must recognize that our current laws, policies, and culture are resulting in underage use.
And this trend of drug use among young people is not slowing down. The pandemic, the lock downs, the isolation is driving teen drug use here.
In Colorado, one in three of our 18- to 25-year-olds are consuming marijuana; one in seven are consuming marijuana DAILY. There has been a significant increase in the number of our kids who report using weed 20 to 30 times per month.
So, our young people are lonely, they’re isolated, their bored, and they don’t see an end to this in sight.
They’ve had to mourn the loss of their proms, graduations, football games and just good old fun. Not to mention those who’ve had a family member die or get sick due to COVID-19.
Many are self-medicating through excessive gaming, eating some edibles or obsessing over Tik Tok. Some are just keeping it all inside.
Most will get through; we know kids are resilient. The vaccine is coming, treatments are advancing, COVID-19 will soon be a string of memories of what it was like when the pandemic ravaged our state.
But our children in Colorado were dying of suicide in growing numbers before this, and it will likely continue to ramp up even quicker now. COVID-19 has added fuel to the fire.
Again, 31 Colorado children are gone in just four months. Most of us know a family that has gone through this hell; it’s too hard to think or talk about it much — so we don’t.
But we must. Right now. And we need to get our kids back in school, back to playing sports, back to being with their friends. Right now. Politicians should drop the hypocritical mandates that let thousands shop on black Friday at a big box store, but not let our youth go to school or hang out at a park with their friends. It’s life or death for our kids, we want that to stop. Right now.
Most of all, we want our kids to be alright. Right now.
Thirty-one of our Colorado children, our babies, gone. This needs to be the highest priority for our politicians, our school boards, our leaders. Start by keeping schools and sports open.
Heidi Ganahl is a businesswoman, entrepreneur, author and at-large member of the University of Colorado Board of Regents, to which she was elected as a Republican in 2016.