UConn Researchers Map Number of Teen Suicide Attempts

Researchers at the University of Connecticut have created a map that looks at where in the state teenagers have attempted suicide in an effort to help determine where resources might be best used to address the issue.

A study by medical sociologist Robert Aseltine and statistician Kun Chen looked at five years of hospital data from 2010 to 2014 that identified 1,878 suicide deaths and serious attempts among teens ages 15-19.

Aseltine said it was the first time anyone has attempted to map not only actual teen suicides, but serious attempts. There are about 360 suicides per year in Connecticut, and between 60 and 70 of those involve adolescents, he said. Tracking attempts, he said, gives researchers a clearer picture of the problem.

The researchers took that map and then adjusted the data for certain socio-economic and academic variables to try and determine the relative risk for suicidal behavior among teens in 119 school districts across the state, Aseltine said.

"What we are trying to do is inform schools around where there is risk that has been unrecognized and also where there are communities with lower levels of risk than we might expect, which may allow us to identify communities with best practices around suicide prevention," Aseltine said.

The map they created showed some surprising results, including the existence of groups of adjacent towns where the number of suicide attempts was greater than expected, said Andrea Duarte, suicide prevention manager with the state Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services.

"It was a little surprising to see clusters," she said. "I don't think we were as aware of that because of the way they were able to cut the data. We'd never seen it presented in this way before."

Duarte said the state is using the data as part of a much larger state-wide risk assessment, expected to be finished in September, which will help determine where to spend resources, including federal grant money earmarked for suicide prevention.

She said the map already helped them identify the Manchester area as a spot to launch an intensive community-based teen suicide awareness effort that includes the school systems, police, local hospital officials and community health resources to help "tighten the safety net," increasing communication to ensure those at risk are identified earlier.

The state also will look at areas such as Windham in eastern Connecticut, where the problem was not as severe as might be expected, to see if there are programs or practices that are working there, which might be duplicated elsewhere in the state.

Aseltine said he expects they might find those communities have good mental health programs in the schools and effective prevention programming.

"You can't make a poor community rich," he said. "But you can make a community that is less organized around this more organized."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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