A new report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveals a significant rise in accidental deaths, homicides, and teen suicides among American youth. Hence, the results have alarmed researchers and public health experts.
Moreover, the death on June 5 of the acclaimed designer Kate Spade Valentine brought renewed attention to mental illness and the tragedy of suicide. According to her husband, David Spade, the designer suffered from anxiety and depression.
Teen Suicides and Suicide Facts
The new CDC report focuses on youth ages 10 to 19. However, Spade’s death at age 55 serves as a reminder that stigma around mental health treatment impacts people of all ages.
Furthermore, it is a reminder that wealth and a successful career cannot ward off mental illness. Even a loving family isn’t enough. People suffering from mental health conditions require professional care from experts in the field.
CDC Report Shows Rise in Injury-Related Deaths
Released on June 1, the report was based on data from death certificates for young people between 1999 and 2016. The certificates were for youth ages 10 to 19 in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
The report found that the death rate for this age group rose by a full 11 percent between 2013 and 2016. This followed a 33 percent decline between 1999 and 2013.
The report attributes the rise to injury-related deaths. These include traffic accident fatalities, drug overdoses, homicides, and teen suicides.
The CDC drew from its National Vital Statistics System to obtain the relevant data.
Separate Study Confirms Results
A separate study published on May 31 in the medical journal JAMA confirmed the findings of the CDC report. Boston Children’s Hospital researchers Lois K. Lee, MD, MPH, and Rebekah Mannix, MD, MPH, compiled the study.
They looked at data for teens and young adults 15 to 34 years old. As a result, they found that deaths due to injuries also increased in this age group between 2012 and 2016.
The study authors stated, “The health and well-being of teenagers and young adults should be considered an important concern for the US health system; increasing mortality in the population that should be the healthiest and most productive is a warning.”
The Top Three Causes of Teen Deaths
Both the CDC report and the study in JAMA list three main causes of death among young people, in this order:
- Unintentional injuries, including motor vehicle crashes, poisoning, and drowning
Illness was lower on the list for American teens. However, World Health Organization statistics show that car accidents, respiratory infections, and suicides are the top three killers of youth ages 10 to 19 worldwide.
Fatal Accidents Account for Rising Teen Death Rate
The report found that the rate of accidental deaths for 10- to 19-year-olds declined 49 percent between 1999 and 2013. Thus, it dropped from 20.6 deaths per 100,000 people to 10.6 per 100,000. But the rate rose 13 percent between 2013 and 2016. Therefore, it increased to 12 per 100,000 young people in this age group.
Three methods of accidental deaths accounted for 85 percent of all unintentional injury-related deaths among youth in 2016:
- Motor vehicle fatalities—62 percent of unintentional injury deaths
- Poisoning, including drug overdoses—16 percent
- Drowning—7 percent.
Distracted driving with cell phones is likely responsible for the increase in motor vehicle fatalities, the study in JAMA stated. That’s because drivers ages 18 to 34 report the highest level of phone involvement at the time of a crash or near crash. Moreover, these drivers are also most likely to send text messages or emails while driving.
Number of Deadly Teen Drug Overdoses Increases
In addition, 90 percent of the poisoning cases involved drug overdoses. Furthermore, these were mostly among older adolescents (ages 15–19).
According to the Boston Children’s Hospital study, the increase in unintentional poisoning deaths among teenagers and young adults is largely due to deaths related to opioids and hallucinogens. These drugs include heroin, fentanyl, and oxycodone.
In the 15- to 24-year-old age group, narcotic/hallucinogen overdoses resulted in 1542 of the 3175 poisoning-related deaths in 2012. Furthermore, this rate increased to 2492 of the 4997 poisoning-related deaths in 2016. Thus, half of the poisoning deaths were caused by narcotic/hallucinogen overdoses that year.
Teen Suicides Increased by 56 Percent from 2007 to 2016
As with accidents, teen suicides among 10- to 19-year-olds declined in the late 20th century. Subsequently, the rate increased significantly in recent years.
Teen suicides dropped by 15 percent between 1999 and 2007, from 4.6 per 100,000 to 3.9 per 100,000. However, the year 2016 saw a precipitous rise in teen suicides.
In fact, the rate increased by 56 percent that year, going up to 6.1 per 100,000. Suffocation, firearms, and poisoning were the three leading methods of suicide in 2016.
Moreover, the actual rates may be higher than the data shows. That’s because suicides tend to be under-reported, particularly when drug overdose is involved.
Homicide Deaths Among Teens
Again, teen homicides were on the decline 20 years ago. Then they increased between 2001 and 2007. Next, they fell again until 2014.
However, between 2014 and 2016, they rose by 27 percent. Moreover, firearms accounted for 87 percent of all homicides that year.
Furthermore, the homicide rate for both males and females followed this pattern of declines followed by increases. However, the male homicide rate was more than four times the female rate throughout this time period.
How to Change the Trend
As a result of the study, parents, healthcare professionals, mental health providers, and other experts are extremely concerned. These tragic trends must be reversed. And prevention is the key.
The following approaches could help save young lives:
- Increased suicide prevention efforts
- More accessible treatment for opioid addiction
- Stronger gun control policies, including universal background checks, to reduce purchase, access, and use of firearms
- Better education, legislation, and law enforcement around cellphone use while driving
- Investments in technology focused on building safer cars and roadways.
Recognizing Teen Substance Abuse Before It’s Too Late
Increased awareness of teen substance abuse warning signs may help reduce teen overdose deaths. Hence, the following red flags are potential indicators of dangerous drug use.
- Bloodshot eyes, eyes drifting and non-focused
- Runny nose, redness around the nose with no medical cause
- Sudden, unexplained weight loss, looking gaunt and skeletal
- Chronic coughing, a smoker’s cough with no medical cause
- Poor hygiene and diminished personal appearance
- Laughing for no reason, emotional instability, extreme moodiness
- Secretive behavior, territorial, hiding in their room
- Extended and unexplained use of bathrooms
- Compulsive eating, frequent hunger or “munchies”
- Loss of interest in once-favored activities, isolation
- Stealing, unexplained need for money, kleptomania
- Inappropriate clothing, such as long sleeves in summer to hide needle marks
- Avoiding eye contact, inability to communicate, withdrawing into their shell
Teens showing these symptoms require immediate assessment and treatment.
Teen Suicide Warning Signs
In addition, there are ways to recognize whether someone is considering a suicide attempt. Hence, 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.
To summarize, the conclusions of the CDC report and the JAMA study offer a warning and a wake-up call for the country. Therefore, we must all work together to reverse these frightening statistics and protect teen safety and well-being.
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American Foundation for Suicide Prevention