The epidemic of teen and adolescent suicide

Suicide rates aren’t just on the rise among young Americans (specifically those age 15 to 24), according to recent data from multiple sources, they are the highest ever recorded. In 2017, suicide ranked as the tenth leading cause of death for Americans of all ages; however, it ranked as the second leading cause of death for young Americans, according to information from the National Center for Health Statistics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This dramatic increase was driven in no small part by a sharp rise in suicides among teenage and adolescent boys. In 2017 alone, suicide claimed the lives of 5,016 males (compared to 1,225 females) between the ages of 15 and 24 in the United States, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). This puts the youth suicide rate (14.6 deaths per 100,000 people) at the highest recorded level since the government began collecting such statistics in 1960.

Statistics surrounding suicide among young adults

Suicide rates for people ages 10 to 24 remained largely the same for the period of time between 2000 and 2007 (6.8 deaths per 100,00 people), but the period from 2007 to 2017 saw a shocking rise of nearly 56%, reaching a rate of 10.6 deaths per 100,000. 

While the rate of suicide among girls and young women followed a steady upward trajectory, the rate among boys and young men turned up sharply in recent years. By 2017, suicide rates for young men ages 15 to 19 skyrocketed to 17.9 per 100,000, up from 13 per 100,000 in 2000. 

Some of the primary risk factors for suicide among teen and young adults include the following:

  • Major depression
  • Substance abuse issues
  • Severe personality disorders
  • Physical illness
  • Traumatic or stressful life events
  • A prior suicide attempt
  • A sense of isolation and lack of support
  • Impulsivity issues
  • Poor emotional coping skills
  • Access to a suicide method

It’s important to remember that depression is a chronic condition which (especially in teens) is often marked by passing episodes of sadness, crankiness and irritability. However, while it may be easy to dismiss many of these as part of normal teenage behavior, it’s never wrong to ask them if they need help or press them on certain behaviors.

Why are we seeing this sudden rise in teen and young adult suicide rates?

It’s not so surprising that suicide rates among young people have increased, as suicide rates for people of all ages have been on the increase for years. However, the increase in rates of suicide among teenagers and young adults has vastly outpaced those of other age demographics. 

Several factors are suspected to play a role in these increases, such as rising rates of depression and anxiety, unprecedented levels of social media use, and a greater willingness of to acknowledge suicide as a cause of death. Certain studies have linked heavy social media use to higher rates of depression and low self-esteem. Of course, this correlation does not equal causation, and most mental health experts caution against isolating one “cause” or factor when discussing suicide. 

Though we know there are certain factors – such as a history of mental illness or substance use – that put teenagers at increased risk for taking their own lives, we simply don’t have enough data to draw firm scientific conclusions.

Suicide on college campuses

College students are a particularly vulnerable group. They often have to live with strangers far from their established support systems, and they tend have disrupted sleeping, eating, and exercise patterns when compared to other demographics.

Some quick stats about student suicide on college campuses:

  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students.
  • Each year, about 1,000 students take their lives on college campuses.
  • More than half of college students report experiencing suicidal thoughts, and 10% seriously contemplate attempting suicide.
  • Of college students who do die by suicide, an estimated 80-90% were not receiving help from college counseling centers.

In recent years, many colleges have expanded their mental health counseling services and suicide and depression awareness programs, in some cases even training dormitory resident assistants. Many campuses have also implemented stress-reduction programs to help students manage and reduce stress before it becomes unbearable.

What are some of the warning signs for teen/young adult suicide?

According to Suicide Awareness/Voices of Education (SA/VE), the following may indicate that a person requires some sort of intervention:

  • Severe mood swings
  • Disregard for personal appearance
  • Talking or joking about suicide 
  • Statements of hopelessness, helplessness, or worthlessness. 
  • Preoccupation with death 
  • Withdrawal or loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed
  • Poor academic performance
  • Giving away possessions or getting affairs in order
  • Self-destructive behavior (in particular, alcohol/drug misuse, self-injury or mutilation)

As mentioned before, not all of these behaviors/attitudes are abnormal, and they don’t always correlate to suicidal behavior, but they are decent guideposts for gauging when it’s time to check in with them and see how they are doing. 

How can parents and family members help?

Besides being mindful of the signs mentioned above, here are some other ways family members (and even friends) can help prevent suicide and safeguard the mental health of young people around them.

Stay involved in their lives – Attend sporting events, performances, and other activities they enjoy and take part in. Talk to teachers or other trusted advisors if you sense that their schoolwork is suffering or if they withdraw from activities (such as clubs or organizations) they previously enjoyed.

Keep the lines of communication open – College students who are newly away from home benefit from knowing that the family support they relied on during childhood is still there, even over a long distance. 

Try to let them do the talking – If you sense that something is bothering them, try not to pry or panic. Ask open-ended questions and listen carefully to their answers and tone of voice and take into account their willingness to share. Try to avoid harsh criticism or impatience. 

What to Do in a Crisis Situation

Suicidal behavior is most often the manifestation of deep psychological pain and a cry for help. Here are some tips to help during a crisis situation:

  • If you suspect someone is contemplating suicide, never leave them alone.
  • Even if you can’t relate to what they’re feeling, never minimize their feelings or trivialize the problems they are having.
  • Don’t treat them as if they are simply seeking attention.
  • Reassure them that you care about them and that they are not a burden to you, and they not weak for having certain thoughts or behaviors.
  • Make sure to praise them for having the courage to reach out for help.

If someone you know seems to be in immediate danger of a suicide attempt, call 911 or your local emergency room and ask for assistance. While it can be difficult, it may be necessary for someone who is seriously contemplating suicide to be hospitalized for their own protection.

Suicide prevention resources:

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255). The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. 

You can also reach out to the Crisis Text Line, a free, 24/7 confidential text messaging service that provides support to people in crisis when they text “Home” to 741741.

If you need legal help, GreeningLaw P.C. is here to help

Even if you do everything right, things can still go wrong. Mental health institutions and professionals make mistakes, and suicide among inpatient populations is sadly quite common. 

GreeningLaw P.C. is one of the most recognized personal injury law firms in the state because we ensure that our clients are properly compensated for their suffering. Our experienced attorneys care about you and your outcome, and we will treat your case with the same thoroughness and respect we would our own families. 

Contact us today for a free consultation. We will review the elements of your case, discuss any possible compensation you may receive, and suggest the best course of action. Additionally, we work on a contingency basis, meaning you don’t pay for anything unless you are compensated for your case.

We fight the legal battle so you have time for healing and renewal.

Sources: 

1. Burrell, J. (2019, November 5). The Grim Numbers Behind Adolescent Suicides and Attempts. Retrieved December 17, 2019, from https://www.verywellmind.com/college-and-teen-suicide-statistics-3570768.

2. Suicide Statistics. (2019, April 16). Retrieved December 17, 2019, from https://afsp.org/about-suicide/suicide-statistics/.

3. Suicide Statistics and Facts. (n.d.). Retrieved December 17, 2019, from https://save.org/about-suicide/suicide-facts/

4. Miron, O. (2019, June 18). Suicide Rates in Adolescents and Young Adults, 2000 to 2017. Retrieved December 17, 2019, from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2735809

5. Warning Signs of Suicide. (n.d.). Retrieved December 17, 2019, from https://save.org/about-suicide/warning-signs-risk-factors-protective-factors/