This month is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in America, and this provides an important opportunity to reflect on how we can influence change and help prevent tragedies of self-harm.
Experts say no single factor generally leads to suicide. While we often and rightfully think of service men and women, as well as first responders, who deal with emotional stress, millions of others are at increased risk due to life-altering events such as divorce. Parents enduring divorce and its aftermath, and their children who attempt to cope with the changes divorce brings to their lives, face significant emotional challenges.
National Parents Organization (NPO) supports family court outcomes that maintain the important parental relationships for both the mother and father following a divorce or separation. Those relationships can provide a strong foundation for parents and children who, without them, are at increased risk for suicide.
The University of California, Riverside conducted a study examining marital status and suicide. They found that the risk of suicide among divorced men was more than double that of married men. And divorced men are as much as eight times more likely to kill themselves than divorced women, overall.
Ten divorced men commit suicide every day in America. That’s 3,650 lives lost every year, and the number is increasing.
Research from sociology professors at the University of California suggests that many suicides of divorced men result from the separation between father and child. This same relationship severance can create a difficult strain on children. NPO has found study after study which conclude children who spend as close to equal time as possible with both parents, regardless of their parents’ marital status, enjoy an increased quality of life, including their emotional well-being.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there was a 24 percent increase in suicides in the United States in the 15 years between 1999 and 2014, and suicide remains the second-leading cause of death for youth ages 12 to 18.
The CDC reports that an average of 3,041 high school-aged children attempt suicide every day, and 8.6 percent of youth in a 2015 Youth Risk Behaviors survey reported at least one suicide attempt in the 12-month period preceding the outreach.
Suicide rates among youth increased in recent decades, while the divorce rate in America grew to about 50 percent.
Unlikely a coincidence, this data indicates that our responsibility to push for change in family court laws has never been greater. Contrary to outdated stereotypes, the overwhelming majority of parents want to be involved with their children. However too many are prevented from doing so based on outdated procedures. We simply must create better parenting arrangements for children after their parents separate or divorce.
Our current system and practice leads to unnecessary tragedy, and we must stop ignoring the problem.
Empowering and celebrating the natural love and affection and the contributions of both parents will save lives and improve the mental health of children, adult children and parents alike. It will affect a lasting positive impact on society.
Thirteen states have passed legislation which pushes for shared parenting outcomes whenever possible, and recent polling of voters in both Ohio and Kentucky shows overwhelming support for this type of legislation. We need to restore familial bonds by bringing a presumption of equal parenting as the standard in Utah.
Suicide Prevention Awareness Month provides an opportunity for us all to reflect on the negative effects of inadequate parenting plans based on antiquated practices of ages long since past, and the associated tragedies it can cause.
We can do better. We must do better. Lives are on the line.
Dan Deuel is the Chairman of Legislative Affairs for National Parents Organization of Utah.