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Teen suicide rates increasing in Tennessee

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Posted at 7:20 PM, Jan 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-16 20:20:44-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — New data from Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network (TSPN) shows a more than 24% increase in child suicide deaths from ages 10 to 17.

The data shows an increase from 41 deaths in 2016 to 51 deaths in 2017. A look back to 2005 shows the rate slowly increasing from just 13 deaths to 51 now. The executive director of TSPN said it's alarming data, but is crucial for increasing awareness and training in Tennessee.

"It's a public health problem. We need to educate the community, schools and folks all across the state about the warning signs. One suicide is one suicide too many," said Scott Ridgway.

Teens are not the only age group impact by the increase. The trend impacts age groups across the board and the entire country.

"When we talk about on a national basis, that we're losing 110 people to the opiate crisis. In the U.S. alone, we're losing close to 130 people to suicide everyday," said Ridgway.

Hendersonville is home to a group that's beginnings can be traced back to the founder's own experiences.

The Jason Foundation was created after Clark Flatt's own son committed suicide at just 16-years-old.

"[Jason] was good in athletics, very popular in school, a lot of friends. Active in his church. No drug or alcohol problems. Yet on July 16 1997 we lost him to suicide," said Flatt.

Flatt said there weren't the same programs available for suicide awareness in the 90s. He said even though there's an increase, awareness and education can save lives.

"Losing a child for any reason is just devastating. Over the 21 plus years now, I've talked to way to many parents. I usually average anywhere from 2 to 3 a week," said Flatt.

The issue has drawn the attention of state lawmakers and governor-elect Bill Lee.

State Representative Rick Staples introduced a bill into the Tennessee Legislature to have the issue recognized as an epidemic.

"What I'm asking our General Assembly to do is to recognize that suicides and suicide attempts is at crisis levels," said Staples. "So, that can give some support to those that are out there who are out there in the field to combat this and maybe we can come together in a unique way to get these young people's attention just to say, 'hey, we're listening. Your life matters. We care as adults, we're listening to you.'"

The Governor-Elect also weighed in on the statistics.

"It's a tragedy. Losing young people to suicide is devastating and it's just a tremendous loss all around. And it's a mental health issue. We have a broad reason to look hard at how we strengthen our mental health resources across our state," Lee said.