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Utah Mom Pleads For Parents To Talk To Their Teens

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – It’s no secret this pandemic has taken a toll on our mental health. But what does that impact look like for children?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the number of children and teens seeking help for anxiety and depression is rising across the country. The study found mental health-related ER visits increased by 31% last year.

The Vega family said their 14-year-old daughter now makes up part of that statistic attempting to take her own life two weeks ago.

Family In Crisis

“If somebody you love tries to take their life, you feel like failure. And you question everything you did. Like, ‘Did I do too much? Did I not do enough?’ And it’s scary to be open about it,” said mother Brandy Vega.

The family said when they first noticed a shift in their daughter’s personality, they chalked it up to “becoming a teenager.”

“She was so fun and outgoing and just cute and creative. You know, over the last couple of years, she’s become more of an introvert,” Vega said.

Two years ago, they realized those changes in behavior were not just part of growing up when at just 12 years old, she attempted suicide for the first time.

“It was a complete shock. I mean, she’s 12 years old,” Vega said. “It was just a complete shock.”

The family got help and their daughter started therapy. Her older sister, Adia Vega, even took her on weekly sister dates.

“We would just talk, and she would tell me about school and tell me about her friends and I thought that it was getting better,” she said.

Adia and Brandy Vega. (KSL TV)

It seemed to be working. Then the pandemic hit, and the family said it took a toll on the teen’s mental health.

“It was heartbreaking for her because she needs to be around people. She doesn’t learn well online,” Brandy Vega said. “She’s like, ‘I need to go to school, I need to have this.’”

Vega said falling behind in school was incredibly hard for her daughter and at the end of February, her 14-year-old was once again in crisis.

That night, they took her to the hospital. Their latest battle is getting her follow-up treatment, which they learned is hard to come by.

“The mental health crisis for teens and youth is through the roof. You can’t get them into a counselor. They’re not taking new patients. They’re all overwhelmed. The treatment facilities are overwhelmed,” Vega said.

Nationwide Picture Of Teen Mental Health

The Vega family is not alone. The CDC found children ages 5-11 seeking mental health care at ERs in 2020 increased by 24% from 2019. For children ages 12-17, those visits increased by 31%.

Utah saw a similar increase in the use of mental health resources. Fortunately, that did not translate to an increase in the number of suicides.

“During the pandemic, our adolescent [suicide] numbers did not increase,” said Michael Staley, suicide research coordinator with the Utah Office of the Medical Examiner.

Last year’s numbers are not complete, but during the first nine months of 2020, there were 28 suicides in Utahns ages 10-17. Staley said that number is likely on track to match what the state saw over the last three years for that age group: 42 in 2017 and 40 in both 2018 and 2019.

“Utahns appear to be quite resilient at least until now. We are still in the middle of the pandemic, but Utahns have come through this and our suicide numbers have not increased,” he said.

Calls to the Suicide Prevention CrisisLine in Utah did go up throughout the first 10 months of 2020.

“It’s difficult to know if this increase happened because of the pandemic or is this part of the regular growth,” Staley said.

Regardless, Staley said now is the time to talk to our teens about suicide, even though it can feel like a difficult conversation.

“Don’t be afraid to have that conversation. You can always ask the question, ‘Are you thinking about suicide? Do you think you might want to end your own life? Are you going to kill yourself?’ Asking the question does not plant an idea, you are not going to introduce something that they don’t know about,” he said.

Have The Courage To Have Tough Conversations

Having those tough conversations is what the Vega family is pushing others to do after their own experience.

“Sometimes kids want us to ask them the hard questions. They don’t want to come and tell us, but they’re willing to be honest if we ask,” said Vega.

They hope by sharing their story, others will realize they are not alone and that there are steps you can take right now to help your children.

“It’s our job as parents to protect our kids. And this is one of the biggest threats they face,” Vega said. “If you’re not willing to go have this talk, you might not get an opportunity.”

Vega’s daughter is currently at an inpatient facility getting care.

If you or a loved one is struggling, help is available. The Utah Department of Health points to three mental health resources:

  • The Suicide Prevention CrisisLine: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • The free Safe UT App
  • www.liveonutah.org, where parents can find step-by-step instructions on how to start the conversation with their children.

SUICIDE PREVENTION RESOURCES 

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or exhibiting warning signs, call the Utah State Crisis Line1-800-273-TALK (8255). 

Additional Crisis Hotlines 

  • National Suicide Prevention Crisis Text Line: Text “HOME” to 741-741 
  • Trevor Project Hotline for LGBTQ teens: 1-866-488-7386 

Online resources 

In an emergency 

  • Call 911 
  • Go to the emergency room 
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