More adolescents are dying by suicide than ever before. An analysis of teen suicide statistics, released in June 2019, shows that the youth suicide rate in the United States is the highest in recorded history. As the frequency of depression and anxiety increases among young people, teen suicide rates also go up—for both boys and girls.
According to the latest Vital Signs report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide rates have increased in almost every state in the nation. Moreover, across all age groups, suicide rates rose by 30 percent since the start of the 21st century. But the rates among teens and Generation Z are of particular concern.
According to CDC Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat, “Suicide is a leading cause of death for Americans—and it’s a tragedy for families and communities across the country.”
The rise in teen suicide rates calls for a corresponding increase in education and prevention efforts. Understanding the risk factors and warning signs can help prevent suicide in adolescence. Thus, suicide awareness is vital for parents, peers, teachers, coaches, and anyone who lives or works with teens.
A Look at Teen Suicide Statistics
New studies examining the increase in teen suicide reveal the following troubling statistics.
- In 2017, the suicide rate for young people between the ages of 15 and 24 was 14.46 per 100,000—the highest recorded rate ever.
- Suicide is the second most common cause of death in the United States among youth ages 10–19.
- Teen suicide statistics show that 17 percent of high school students have seriously considered suicide, and 8 percent have made failed suicide attempts.
- More than half of the teens who try to commit suicide have never been given a mental health diagnosis.
- Compared to heterosexual youth, the rate of teen suicide is 3.5 times greater for lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth.
- The number of teens admitted to children’s hospitals as a result of suicidal thoughts or self-harm has more than doubled during the last decade.
- The United States faces a severe shortage of practicing child and adolescent psychiatrists, with fewer than 17 providers available per 100,000 children
Sources: National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Journal of Abnormal Psychology, American Association of Suicidology
Statistics Show the Danger to Teen Girls
The 2019 study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), pinpointed a spike in suicides among older teenage boys—up to 17.9 per 1000,000 in 2017. However, many of the recent teen suicide statistics focus on teen girls.
Since 2000, the suicide rate among girls and young women has doubled. In particular, there has been a sharp increase in teen girls poisoning themselves. In 2018, close to 60,000 girls ages 10 to 18 tried to poison themselves. Such poisonings include intentional overdoses of pharmaceutical or illicit drugs.
Teen girls learn to “put on a pretty face,” hiding the pain within that leads to suicidal behavior. Hence, suicides by female adolescents often are unexpected. Furthermore, impulsivity is a key risk factor in suicide, and teen girls are likely to be impulsive. In addition, recent research shows that the black-and-white thinking patterns of teen girls may make them more prone to suicidal ideation and behavior.
Let’s take a look at the statistics:
- Suicide rates among teen girls hit a 40-year high in 2015.
- The suicide rate for teen girls in 2017 was 14 suicides per 100,000.
- Teen girls are more likely to have suicidal thoughts than teenage boys.
- The primary suicide methods for teen girls are suffocation, poison, and drug overdoses.
- For girls ages 16 to 18, the poisoning rate nearly doubled in the past five years.
Overall Risk Factors for Teen Suicide
Many factors can contribute to the risk of adolescent suicide. Risk factors do not cause teen suicide, but they may contribute to a teen’s likelihood of making a suicide attempt.
The top reasons for teenage suicide include the following:
- Depression, anxiety, or other mental health disorders
- Family history of suicide
- A history of substance abuse
- Exposure to violence, abuse, or other trauma
- Social isolation or bullying
- Losing a family member through death or divorce
- Financial or job loss
- Conflict within relationships
- Starting or changing psychotropic medications
- Feeling stigmatized
- Lack of support.
For every person who attempts or completes suicide, many more suffer from suicidal ideation. Suicidal ideation is defined as having suicidal thoughts—thoughts of ending one’s life. This is much more common than we might imagine.
However, thinking about suicide does not necessarily mean that a teen will make an actual suicide attempt. Many teens may think about suicide, but their suicidal thoughts do not progress to suicide plans or suicide attempts.
Moreover, suicidal thoughts can also become a cognitive habit, an ongoing mental pattern. Such thoughts often result from depression, or from a desire to escape a situation that seems impossible to handle.
Suicidal thoughts can quickly escalate to a suicide attempt, so teens suffering from suicidal ideation need treatment before any actual planning begins.
Teen Suicide Attempts
Every 40 seconds, someone ends their life, somewhere in the world. However, there are a great many more suicide attempts than deaths by suicide. The majority of attempts go unreported because of stigma and shame.
The CDC defines a suicide attempt as non-fatal, potentially injurious behavior that is self-directed, with the original intent to bring about death. Although a suicide attempt might not result in injury, attempted suicide is a critically dangerous event.
Some people plan suicide attempts, while others are impulsive. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, at least one million people in the US each year engage in intentionally inflicted self-harm. Moreover, the ratio of suicide attempts to suicide death in youth is estimated to be about 25:1.
Suicide Warning Signs
There are ways to recognize whether someone is considering a suicide attempt. Here are some of the warning signs.
- Talking or posting on social media about suicide or wanting to die
- Feeling hopeless or trapped
- Increasing use of drugs and/or alcohol
- Changes in weight, appearance, or sleep habits
- Gathering drugs, sharp objects, firearms, or other items that could be used to commit suicide or self-harm
- Isolating themselves and withdrawing from friends
- Searching online for methods of committing suicide
- Visiting or calling people to say goodbye, and giving away prized possessions
- Trouble concentrating and/or a drop in academic performance
- Migraines, frequent stomachaches, or other physical complaints
- Risk-taking or self-destructive behavior
- Suddenly becoming calm or cheerful after a long period of depression.
If you see any of these signs, take the following actions:
- Do not leave the person alone.
- Remove anything that could be used in a suicide attempt, including ﬁrearms, alcohol, drugs, razors, or other sharp objects.
- Call the US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
- Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional.
Source: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Suicide Prevention and Awareness
There is suicide help available for teens who are having suicidal thoughts. Suicide support can take the form of a suicide prevention hotline. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline runs a network of suicide hotline crisis centers. Moreover, they provide information about taking suicide precautions.
In addition, many organizations work to decrease stigma around teen depression and suicidal ideation. Newport Academy partners with To Write Love On Her Arms, a non-profit dedicated to finding help and hope for those struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide.
Suicide Prevention Awareness Month every September is an opportunity for mental health and youth organizations to share resources and stories that help bring these topics out into the open. Ultimately, such efforts are designed to help teens understand that they are not alone.
Factors that Protect Against Teen Suicide
Along with risk factors, there are also factors that protect against teen suicide. These include the following:
- Access to treatment for mental health, physical health, and substance abuse disorders, including suicide assessment when warranted
- Family and community support
- Skills in problem solving, conflict resolution, and nonviolent ways of handling disputes
- Tools for coping and emotional self-regulation
- Cultural and/or religious beliefs that discourage suicide.
Suicide and Teen Depression
Suicide can be the tragic result of untreated depression. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 20 percent of American youth will experience some degree of teen depression. Thus, treatment for depression is a vital factor in suicide prevention.
With suicidal depression, different forms of individual therapy contribute toward sustainable healing. Furthermore, such treatment is also essential for suicide survivors.
- Attachment-Based Family Therapy (ABFT) is specifically designed to address depression and the risk of teen suicide, by repairing ruptured relationships between parents and teens. As a result, young people feel safe enough to turn to their parents when they are experiencing suicidal thoughts.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) brings clarity to what a teen is thinking and feeling. CBT identifies the emotions that often result in a sense of isolation. Consequently, it identifies the self-defeating thoughts and assumptions that make life more difficult. CBT provides valuable insight for the depressed teen.
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) provides specific skills like mindfulness and emotional regulation. These skills can be used right away and become stronger with practice.
- Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET) leads to transformation and healing. This therapy helps teens make positive choices. MET helps resolve any initial resistance to treatment.
- Experiential modalities, such as art therapy and music therapy, give teens ways to process their emotions through self-expression and body-based practices.
- Additionally, developing positive coping and for managing stress can help protect teens against suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts.
- Additionally, developing positive coping and relaxation skills for managing stress can help protect teens against suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts.
In conclusion, teen suicide is preventable. The cure is awareness, knowledge, and access to resources. As individuals and a society, we must do everything we can to reverse the current adolescent mental health crisis and its accompanying suicide trends.
“When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.”
—Harriet Beecher Stowe