Teens and young adults are facing rising rates of suicide, according to a new paper published this week in JAMA — and researchers can only guess why, leaving the nation at a loss over how to address this tragic trend. Males are at particular risk for suicide, outnumbering female fatalities nearly fourfold.
The paper documented the sharp increase in suicide rates between 2000 and 2017 among youth 15 to 24 years of age. The suicide rate for teenagers rose from 8 per every 100,000 people to almost 12 in 2017. The rate for adults 20 to 24 was higher and rose by an even greater margin. “[Suicide among] adolescents has reached its highest recorded level, and it shows that there’s especially an increase in recent years in adolescent males,” lead author Oren Miron told CNN. “The data shows that it is a very real threat.”
While technology has been implicated generally as one factor that may be driving suicide rates, the actual data behind the rising rates has yet to elucidate why the risk is growing. One expert not involved with the JAMA report told CNN, “I don’t think it’s the using of technology that’s the problem, but I think it can be how that affects your relationships and the cyberbullying issue.” Victims of cyberbullying are subject to an increased risk of depression, suicidal ideation, and suicide risk. Unlike their heterosexual peers, LGBTQ youth have to contend with the unique burden of the life-threatening practice of conversion therapy.
The researchers behind the report suggested that opioid addiction may be connected to the increasing rate of suicide, but also pointed out that the increase could be tied to a more accurate count of suicide deaths; as the stigma surrounding suicide wanes, it’s possible that more families are willing to attribute a loved one’s death to suicide rather than characterizing it as an accident. Regardless, the data emphasizes that the threat of suicide among youth and young adults is a much bigger problem than public health officials were aware of. The trend matches that of suicide rates in America among people of any age. Between 1999 and 2016, the U.S. saw a rate increase of 25 percent, with some states seeing rates go up by more than 30 percent. As of now, suicide is one of the top 10 leading causes of death.
If you or a loved one is experiencing a potentially life-threatening crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).