Did you know that ahead of anything else — car accidents, drowning, sickness or disease — the leading cause of death here in the state for teens and young adults is actually suicide?
One family is sharing their story of loss and what they’re doing to spread hope.
"It was devastating," said Camilla Matthews Peterson, who lost her brother Ammon to suicide seven years ago. "We were almost in denial of our own mental health issues because there’s a stigma in talking about our own mental health issues and saying that you need help, and it kind of was a wake-up call for us."
Ammon was just 14 years old.
"We are all in this together. There’s no reason to tear each other down. Let’s work together and be a community to lift each other up and create support and love and understanding," Peterson said.
She started a company along with her sisters Heather and Ashley, hoping to inspire change and spread hope, love and compassion — not just through their online clothing company, but with random acts of kindness and other projects. The company's name: "Dear Sister;"
"Where an author could have ended their story, but they chose to go on," Peterson said of the use of a semicolon in the name. "You are the author, and your life is your story, and you choose to go on."
"My brother was two years younger than me, so we were super close growing up. We were like little besties, and even I like didn’t see it coming," said Ashley Sandmire, adding that she’s reviewed over and over again her brother’s behavior in those weeks before his death. "Even though we were so close, I didn’t know signs."
Dr. Donna Milavetz, the executive medical director at Regence Bluecross Blueshield of Utah, says teen behavior may be up and down but parents need to watch out for certain signs.
"When a child or a young adult says 'I wish I was dead' or 'I won’t be a problem any longer,' that impulsivity is a really big red flag," Milavetz said.
But she added that beyond expressing suicidal thoughts, loved ones should look for other signs such as withdrawal, sadness, or a decline in schoolwork.
"If your child is a straight-A student, and all of a sudden, they’re coming home with Cs and Ds and getting notes from class, your kid is not showing up for class, those are all danger signs," Milavetz said.
The latest numbers on it are sobering. Milavetz says for teens and young adults, suicide is the leading cause of death in Utah — higher than the national average. And according to data, nearly 40 percent of all high school students have reported feeling hopeless and 25 percent contemplated suicide at some point.
"Have those conversations. Say, 'Hey, that’s really concerning to me. Tell me more about that,'" Milavetz said.
She recommends getting the SafeUT app or reaching out to your healthcare provider for additional resources.
"Early intervention is critical in this. Making sure your kid shows up to life the next day is the goal," she said.
The Matthews sisters say they’ll continue to talk about the issue in an effort to help someone else’s family.
"Just helping people know that they’re not alone and that we have each other and that’s it’s okay to not be okay and it’s okay to talk about it and it’s okay to reach out," Sandmire said.
"We want people to see what we’re doing and see it doesn’t have to be big, huge gestures. It can be little things here and there that inspire people to make a change, to spread kindness, to do something nice for someone, because it could just be that one little thing that someone needs that could save their life," Peterson said.
Crisis intervention resources:
- Smartphone app: SafeUT
- Crisis text line: 741741
- Hotline for LGBTQ+ teens: 1-866-488-7386
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
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