The suicide rate among American kids and teens had been gradually declining since 1990, but the numbers suddenly shot up an alarming 8% in 2003–2004 — the biggest 1-year rise in 15 years. Now, suicide is the third leading cause of death among preteens, teens, and young adults.
According to a disturbing new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of 10- to 24-year-olds killing themselves has reached staggering and disturbing proportions.
From 2003–2004, the suicide rate increased:
- 76% for 10- to 14-year-old girls
- 32% for 15- to 19-year-old girls
- 9% for 15- to 19-year-old boys
And how kids are committing suicide has dramatically changed, too. Whereas more than half used guns to attempt suicide in 1990, the more accessible methods of hanging and suffocation were the most common in 2004. In fact, from 2003 to 2004, suicide rates from hanging or suffocation skyrocketed nearly 120% among 10- to 14-year-old girls and 44% among 15- to 19-year-old girls.
Also in 2004, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) started requiring drug companies to put "black-box" warning labels on all antidepressants, cautioning parents about the possibly increased risk of suicidal thoughts and actions among kids and teens taking the medications.
Since then, antidepressant prescriptions have gone down. Now, some health officials are wondering if the black-box warnings are contributing to the dramatic spike in preteen and teen suicides because some children aren't getting the help they need.
Most people who attempt suicide do have depression, which often makes them focus mostly on their failures and disappointments, emphasizing the negative side of their situations and downplaying their own capabilities or worth. Depressed people often don't realize that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. They may feel like there's no other way out of problems, no other escape from emotional pain, or no other way to communicate their desperate unhappiness.
What This Means to You
In some cases, suicide just can't be prevented — sometimes there's no warning whatsoever. But most teens who kill themselves — more than 90%, in fact — often show some signs of a mental health problem like depression before they tragically take their own lives, says the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). That's why it's absolutely crucial that these kids get the help they desperately need before it's too late.
Common red flags that someone may be thinking about or planning a suicide attempt include:
- talking about suicide (or death in general); "going away"; new, unrealistic plans or goals; or feeling trapped, hopeless, or without a purpose
- giving away possessions and referring to things they "won't be needing"
- pulling away from friends or family and losing the desire to go out
- showing no interest in enjoying favorite things or activities
- having trouble concentrating or thinking clearly
- experiencing dramatic changes in mood or eating or sleeping habits
- engaging in reckless or self-destructive behavior (like cutting, driving too fast, or abusing drugs or alcohol)
- feeling increasingly agitated, anxious, panicked, impulsive, irritable, aggressive, or angry
- seeming suddenly or increasingly restless (pacing or fidgeting), excited, or filled with energy (often with fast, driven speech)
Kids and teens are also at increased risk for suicide if they're having problems at home, in school, or with the law. And going through a stressful event or using drugs and alcohol can make things even worse.
Your support, understanding, and unconditional love are essential to helping your child get better, but you can't work through the often-complex issues that come with mental illness by yourselves. If you think your child might be depressed or having suicidal thoughts, call your doctor or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK for a referral to a mental health professional right away.
Depression that isn't diagnosed or adequately treated (with therapy and/or medications) increases the risk of self-harming behaviors such as cutting and suicide. As with any treatment, your doctor can help you weigh the benefits of antidepressants against the possible risks.
Getting appropriate and immediate treatment will help your child start healing and feeling like life is worth living again.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: September 2007
Sources: "Suicide Trends Among Youths and Young Adults Aged 10–24 Years — United States, 1990–2004," Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), Sept. 7, 2007. "Suicide and Suicide Attempts in Adolescents," AAP revised clinical report, Pediatrics, Sept. 2007.