Suicide is the second leading cause of death in kids and teens ages 10 to 19 in the United States, after accidents and unintentional injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Now, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association is raising new alarms, with evidence that suicide rates for young girls, ages 10 to 14, are rising at a pace faster than that of boys, changing the established patterns that boys are more likely to die by suicide and that girls are more likely to consider it and attempt it.
Overall, the study found, the rates of youth suicide peaked in 1993 and had been on the decline until 2007, when they again started to climb, according to the findings. These trends were observed across all regions in the United States.
The Connecticut Suicide Advisory Board reports that in the 2017 Connecticut School Health Survey of 9th – 12th grade students,18.4% had inflicted self-injury during the past 12 months, 13.5% seriously considered attempting suicide, and 8.1% attempted suicide one or more times.
In the new national study, boys 15 to 19 continued to take their own lives using firearms at far greater rates than girls, but the rates of hanging and suffocation in girls approached those of boys. Girls turning to more lethal means is cause for “great concern,” explained lead author Donna Ruch, research scientist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, adding that girls continue to attempt suicide at higher rates and the shift toward more lethal methods could have dire consequences for the rates of completed suicide in this group.
Although boys were 3.8 times more likely than girls to kill themselves over the 40-year study period, the gap is rapidly narrowing. Starting in 2007, the rates of suicide for girls 10 to 14 increased 12.7% per year, compared with 7.1% for boys the same age. A similar trend was seen for teens 15 to 19, with rates of suicide going up 7.9% for girls and 3.5% for boys.
The study’s conclusion stressed that it reveals “a significant and disproportionate increase in suicide rates for female youth relative to male youth, particularly in younger individuals. Rates of suicide by hanging or suffocation and in some racial/ethnic groups among female youth are now approaching those of male youth. This narrowing gap underscores the urgency to identify suicide prevention strategies that address the unique developmental needs of female youth.”
The researchers went on to say that “the narrowing gap between male and female rates of suicide was most pronounced among youth aged 10 to 14 years, underscoring the importance of early prevention efforts that take both sex and developmental level into consideration.”
The study report also noted that “a history of suicidal behavior is a leading predictor of future suicide in youth, 16, 17 and although rates of hospitalization for suicidal ideation and suicide attempts in youth have increased over time in both sexes, this increase has been greatest among female youth.”
Researchers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio analyzed suicide rates of US kids and teens ages 10 to 19 between 1975 and 2016 using the Wide-ranging Online Data for Epidemiologic Research database, run by the CDC, according to published reports.
The Massachusetts-based Suicide Prevention resource Center points out that “Middle school is an important setting for supporting mental health and suicide prevention among youth.” CT Mirror reported last year that “in 2017, 14 children between the ages of 12 and 17 committed suicide in Connecticut, the highest number of youth suicides since 2001, according to the office of the Child Advocate.”
Connecticut’s Suicide Prevention Plan 2020, adopted in 2014, states that “Youth suicide is a particularly devastating problem from several different vantage points.”The 80-page plan calls for suicide prevention efforts for youth in Connecticut to focus on micro- and macro-level interventions, including:
• Broaden suicide prevention efforts to include a focus on prevention of suicide and on suicide related thoughts and behaviors that are often precursors to a fatal attempt.
• Provide psycho-education for family members and natural support systems.
• Educate that lethal means restrictions with youth will also include attention to the high-risk method for this population: asphyxia and hanging.
• Provide education and interventions regarding lethal means restriction.
• Increase awareness across the state of risk factors for youth.
• Promote suicide prevention training in all settings where youth congregate (schools, communities, houses of worship, and the like).
• Advocate for legislation and resources to ensure ready access to quality mental health services.
• Embed suicide prevention services and funds in youth programs.
• Develop specialized prevention programs for those youth in foster care and those who have contact with the juvenile justice system. These populations are almost four times more likely to attempt suicide.
• Consider the differences of suicide and related behaviors among youth related to other demographic characteristics such as gender, race/ethnicity and sexual orientation.
• Advocate for legislation that mandates annual suicide prevention training for middle schools and high schools.
• Provide timely outreach to communities after a suicide.
• Promote universal behavioral health screens including substance abuse and depression.
• Consider the development of a suicide prevention conference that addresses youth and young adults, with separate tracks for educators, peers, family members, researchers and direct service providers.
• Train school nurses and other school personnel in Youth Mental Health First Aid.
• Provide Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) for Youth presentations.
It has been reported that half of all mental health disorders begin by age 14 and three-quarters by age 24, and it is estimated that only 41% of people who had a mental disorder during the past year received professional health care or other services.
The national suicide prevention lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.