Suicide rate among US youngsters rises 55% in a decade, but it's difficult to pinpoint risk factors: Study

Suicide rate in the 10-24 age-group have increased from 6.8 per 100,000 persons in 2007 to 10.6 in 2017, says the CDC analysis.


                            Suicide rate among US youngsters rises 55% in a decade, but it's difficult to pinpoint risk factors: Study

The number of young Americans killing themselves has increased significantly in the last decade.

Suicide rate in the 10-24 age-group have increased by over 55% ⁠— from 6.8 per 100,000 persons in 2007 to 10.6 in 2017 ⁠— according to the latest figures released by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The experts say while the suicide rate for persons aged 10-14 declined from 2000 to 2007 (0.9), it nearly tripled from 2007 to 2017.

“After a stable period from 2000 to 2007, suicide rates for persons aged 10-24 increased from 2007 to 2017. The suicide rate among persons aged 10–24 increased by 56% between 2007 and 2017. The pace of increase for suicide was greater from 2013 to 2017 (7% annually, on average) than from 2007 to 2013 (3% annually),” says the report.

The experts analyzed death rates due to suicide and homicide among Americans in the 10-24 age-group, from 2000 to 2017.

For those in the age group of 15-19, the suicide rate was stable from 2000 to 2007 and then increased by 76% from 2007 (6.7 per 100,000) to 2017 (11.8). The pace of increase, according to experts, was greater from 2014 to 2017 - 10% annually, on average, than from 2007 to 2014, when it was 3% annually.

Similarly, for persons aged 20-24, the suicide rate in the US went up from 2000 (12.5) to 2017 (17) by 36%. The pace of increase was greater from 2013 to 2017 (6% annually, on average) than from 2000 to 2013 (1% annually).

While the CDC report does not state the reasons behind the increase in suicides, experts say suicide causes are complex, and it is challenging to specify the exact reasons as to why suicide rates may rise or fall. 

“At the individual level, there is never a single cause of suicide. There are always multiple risk factors. That confluence of multiple risk factors makes it a trickier business to explain a population-level rise,” says Dr Christine Moutier, chief medical officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, in an article published on American Psychological Association or APA’s website.

There are several risk factors, and a single factor or a combination of multiple factors could be the reason, according to researchers. 

“Risk factors include health factors (such as depression, substance use problems, serious mental illness and serious physical health conditions including pain), environmental factors (such as access to lethal means and stressful life events including divorce, unemployment, relationship problems or financial crisis) and historical factors (including previous suicide attempts, a family history of suicide and a history of childhood abuse or trauma),” says the APA article.

“There is no obvious culprit for an increase in suicides ⁠— nor is there a single, easy solution we can import from other nations to turn the trend around,” it adds.

The causes of suicide are complex, say experts, and could include several risk factors such as health (depression), environment (unemployment) and historical (family history of suicide) factors. (Getty Images)

According to the latest CDC study, deaths due to suicide and homicide often referred to collectively as violent deaths, have consistently been a significant cause of premature death to persons aged 10-24 in the US. In 2017, suicide was the second leading cause of death for persons in the 10-24 age group, shows analysis.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) says suicide is a major public health problem in America. “The effects of suicide go beyond the person who acts to take his or her life: it can have a lasting effect on family, friends, and communities,” says NIMH.

According to experts, the risk for suicidal behavior is challenging, and not everyone who has risk factors for suicide will kill themselves. “Research suggests that people who attempt suicide may react to events, think, and make decisions differently than those who do not attempt suicide. These differences happen more often if a person also has a disorder such as depression, substance abuse, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, and psychosis. Risk factors are important to keep in mind; however, someone who has warning signs of suicide may be in more danger and require immediate attention,” says NIMH.

Calling suicide a major health problem in the US, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) says that the effects of suicide go beyond the person who acts to take his or her life. It can have a lasting effect on family, friends, and communities, say experts. (Getty Images)

The APA says timely suicide data that include details about risk factors and mechanisms of death have been hard to come by in the US. “The CDC’s National Violent Death Reporting System, which collects such details, was only created in 2002, and it wasn’t until 2018 that it was expanded to collect data on suicides and other violent deaths from all 50 states,” say experts.

The article argues that interventions have been slow. “The US has also been slow to develop a national strategy. The country’s first national plan to address suicide prevention was published in 2001, and it was not until 2010 that the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention was launched as a public-private partnership to advance and update the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention. That strategy outlines goals and objectives for reducing deaths by suicide,” it says.

The CDC report, which also analyzed homicides among Americans, says homicide ranked third for persons aged 15-19 and 20-24 and fifth for persons aged 10-14. 

“Recent increases were observed for both suicide and homicide death rates among persons aged 15-19 and 20-24, with the increases for suicide rates beginning earlier than for homicide rates. In addition, for persons aged 15-19 and 20-24, suicide rates surpassed homicide rates during the latter part of the period,” says the report.

The analysis shows that homicide rates for persons aged 15–19 increased from 2000 to 2007, declined from 2007 to 2014, and then increased 30% from 2014 (6.7 per 100,000) to 2017 (8.7). 

“In 2000, the homicide rate for persons aged 15–19 (9.5) was higher than the suicide rate (8.0) and remained higher through 2010. From 2011 to 2017, the suicide rate was higher than the homicide rate (11.8 and 8.7, respectively, in 2017),” it says.

In the 20-24 age group, the homicide rate declined by 24% from 2000 (16.0) to 2014 (12.1) and then increased by 15% through 2017 (13.9).

“In 2000, the homicide rate for persons aged 20-24 (16.0) was 28% higher than the suicide rate (12.5). The rates converged in 2010, were essentially the same from 2010 to 2012, and then the suicide rate was higher than the homicide rate from 2013 to 2017 (17 and 13.9, respectively, in 2017),” says the report. 

For persons in the 10-14 age-group, however, homicide rates declined by 18% from 2000 to 2017. The analysis shows that from 2000 to 2005, the suicide rate for persons aged 10-14 was higher than the homicide rate. While it was not significantly different from 2006 to 2008, the rate of homicide was higher again from 2009 to 2017. “By 2017, the suicide rate was more than twice the homicide rate (2.5 compared with 0.9),” says the study.

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