With Teen Suicide Threats On The Rise, Teton County Adopts New Approach

Feb 19, 2018

Credit Carissa Rogers / Flickr Creative Commons

More teen suicide threats than average have been reported to the emergency room in Teton County. Normally, there’s only a couple a year, but recently that number rose to 16 in a four-month period.

Previously, the hospital didn’t have an ideal space to handle such cases. It required kids to be held under guard for 24 hours and doctors and nurses weren't equipped to offer therapy.

But a new program has stepped in to solve that problem. Director of Operations Sara Cavallaro said the Teton Youth and Family Services had some space normally used to hold kids accused of crimes, but that space was rarely used.

“We actually did retrofitting of the facility to make sure it was safe,” she said. “Took out glass and put in plexiglass and did some reorganizing of the bathroom. The point is to have eyes on the child 24 hours a day.”

Cavallaro said, now, kids can receive care from a trained therapist and the family can get help forming a plan for treatment.

“We call it staff secure, so we don’t have locks on it, but it’s a safe place. It’s a one-on-one situation where the youth would be with a staff member that can talk to them, they can talk about what’s going on. Typically, youth come out of their risk of suicide within 24 hours.”

Cavallaro said she’d like to see other communities in the state use this approach to treating suicidal teens since most rely on local hospitals instead of trained professionals. She says the sudden increase in teen suicidal thinking may be related to more stress at home from economic pressures in the community, or from the isolating effects of teen use of social media.