David Sutter
David Sutter
By David Sutter

Jefferson County Prosecutor

May is National Teen Self-Esteem Month, which was created to raise public awareness about how low self-esteem can affect teens. The teenage years are a notoriously difficult time for many young people. On top of physical and emotional changes, teens also must contend with the added pressures of social changes, new relationships, increased educational expectations, and peer pressure.

We should take particular note of this issue as Hoosiers. Indiana’s teen suicide rate has been higher than the national average since 1999. According to the “Indiana Youth Risk Behavior Survey,” 22% of girls and 12% of boys surveyed in grades 9-12 seriously considered attempting suicide in the last year. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for Hoosier teens, with more than 50 Indiana young people committing suicide each year. Jefferson County is no exception. In fact, according to a 2018 New York Times article, in 2016, the suicide rate in Jefferson County was the highest suicide rate for any Indiana county, and more than twice the state average. Compared with the national rate, a startling 3.2 times higher.

It is not just suicide that is a concern. The National Survey of Children’s Health reports that depression is the most prevalent mental disorder experienced among adolescents, with 30.8% of Indiana high school students reporting feeling sad or hopeless to the point that they stopped doing some usual activities almost every day for two or more weeks in a row. Life events can trigger depression, but it can also develop for no apparent reason. Some signs of depression in teens include: difficulty falling asleep, or oversleeping; less socializing with friends or parents; loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy; frequent bouts of crying; or alcohol or drug use.

Teens most at risk for depression and/or suicide include victims of crime or bullying, those experiencing problems with friends, or teens suffering a traumatic event or loss. Some studies also suggest that the more time teenagers spend on social media, the more likely they are to be depressed.

Setting aside a national awareness month provides a good reminder for us to help young people feel more confident about themselves. Parents and guardians of teens are asked to make a particular effort during the month of May to be a positive role model for the young people in their lives. There are many ways to do this, such as leading by example; avoiding negativity; ensuring open lines of communication; building trust; guiding and encouraging your teen to make healthy decisions; listening and taking an interest in their lives. Parents and guardians are in the best position to notice changes in your teen. If he or she shows signs of depression, I encourage you to seek professional help. Visit your child’s pediatrician or make an appointment to talk with a behavioral health specialist.

As your prosecutor, this and every month my office will be working to lift up young people in our community. Our victim’s assistance program is here to ensure the safety and well-being of young victims, and to make sure their voice is heard in our court system. We, along with our law enforcement partners, will always set a good example for the teens around us, and will work to encourage them to be all they can be. My office will continue to actively engage with our community school systems by participating in and monitoring safety protocols, encouraging anti-bullying efforts, helping with career days, serving as guest speakers, and working to cut back on truancy to help more teens graduate.

As a community, we owe it to our teens to help them succeed in life. As we take this opportunity to reflect on how we can best do that, rest assured that as your Prosecutor, I will continue to keep our young people at the forefront of my work every day, and I will always look out for their best interest in the work that we do.