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Dealing with the problem of teen suicide

When student members of the Colorado Youth Advisory Council (COYAC) came to the state Capitol last week, they took the lead on one of the most challenging youth issues Colorado faces — that is, our very high teen suicide rate.

Responding to the results of a survey of over 700 youths across Colorado, COYAC has identified teen suicide as its number-one priority. Not satisfied with just calling attention to the issue, these youths want to see positive change which can only be measured by a lowering of the number of teens who commit suicide.

This is a very heavy topic for teenagers to choose to tackle as the youth advisory council to Colorado’s legislature. It takes considerable courage and foresight on their part to devote their time and energy to this effort. None of that escaped the attention of the legislators who listened to members of COYAC testify about their research and reasons, many of them personal, for choosing to shine a light on this very troublesome issue that touches Colorado’s students, their friends, families, schools and communities.

The COYAC members worked with a legislative drafter to write a resolution raising awareness of teen suicide in Colorado and they’re proposing the formation of a working group to develop strategies and possible teacher training to spot the warning signs of a teen contemplating suicide. I’m one of four legislators who are non-voting members of the COYAC and this bipartisan team is the prime sponsor of the resolution.

The resolution, which can be read at www.leg.state.co.us, was presented by COYAC in the House Education Committee and passed unanimously. A few days later, the resolution was passed unanimously by the full House after lengthy supportive discussion by the legislators. Next, procedural steps for the resolution will include being heard in the Senate Education Committee and then on to the Senate floor.

I sponsored the original legislation setting up the COYAC in 2008 with the participation of youths from southwest Colorado who helped in the bill drafting and testifying in support of setting up Colorado’s own state level youth advisory council. Several years have passed since COYAC’s start and many students have graduated from COYAC and are out in the bigger world beyond high school. Each year, I’ve had the privilege and inspiration of working with the COYAC members.

When COYAC was beginning, I remember a student asking then Gov. Ritter in a meeting we had with him, if he, a former city youth council member, felt that COYAC would really make a difference. He replied that it would be a function of how much kids are willing to participate in the political process. He said they needed to be more than a “hood ornament” for the Legislature. They’ve met that challenge in spades.

COYAC’s weighed in with the state legislators since 2008 on issues important to Colorado’s youth. As meaty as education reform, environmental concerns and teen health are, addressing teen suicide is the most serious and ambitious yet.

The student members from COYAC’s first year of existence and every year since would join me in being very proud of the work of their successors in bringing the youth perspective and concern into the Capitol, particularly on the incredibly complex challenge of reducing teen suicide that we all, as a state, must face.

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