For nearly a decade, suicide rates have been climbing among U.S. teens, with an especially pronounced increase in boys recently, a new study suggests.
Rates among teens began to increase in 2007, with an even sharper rise between 2014 and 2017, the last year for which there is data, according to the report published in JAMA. Rates among young adults also rose during this period, the researchers reported. The rate among teens had been rising faster in girls than in boys until 2015, when the rate among boys rose sharply.
“There is a surge of suicides in adolescent males,” said the study’s lead author Oren Miron, a research associate in the department of biomedical informatics at the Harvard Medical School. “Previous research has talked about the rise in females. Our study shows both are at much higher risk.”
Miron hopes the study will alert parents and other relatives to the increasing suicide rates so they will notice changes in teens and young adults that might suggest a risk for suicide.
“We want to lay the foundation for more research and in general to emphasize how bad the situation is with the hope that it will lead to more resources for kids,” Miron said.
To take a closer look at suicides by age, Miron and his colleagues turned to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Underlying Cause of Death database.
Of the 6,241 suicides in individuals aged 15 to 24 in 2017, 5,016 were in males and 1,225 were in females, the researchers reported. The rate of suicides in teens aged 15 to 19 in 2017 was 11.8 per 100,000, and 17.9 per 100,000 boys and 5.4 per 100,000 girls. In young adults aged 20 to 24, the suicide rates for 2017 were 17 per 100,000 overall and 27.1 per 100,000 young men and 6.2 per 100,000 young women.
In comparison, the rate among adolescents in 2000 was 8 per 100,000, which remained unchanged until 2007. Then rates started to climb, rising 3% per year between 2008 to 2014 and rising 10% per year between 2014 and 2017.
In boys, suicide rates had been declining slightly between 2000 and 2007, but then started to rise: 2.6% per year between 2007 and 2014 and 14.2% per year between 2015 and 2017. In girls, the rate was flat between 2000 and 2010 but then rose by 8.2% per year between 2010 and 2017.
Among young adults, rates were slowly but steadily rising between 2000 and 2013 but increased by 5.6% per year from 2013 to 2017. In young men, rates increased by 5.5% per year between 2013 and 2017 and in young women, they increased by 4% between 2000 and 2017.
The new findings are “alarming,” said Dr. David Brent, academic chief of child psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
Brent suspects that rising rates in teens may be related to both the opioid epidemic and economics. “Despite some parties being very optimistic about the American economy there have been a lot of people left behind,” Brent said. “There is some evidence that there is a relationship between economic distress and suicidal behavior in kids.”
The trends presented in the new study, are “disturbing, but unfortunately not surprising,” said Ian Rockett, a professor emeritus in the department of epidemiology at West Virginia University and an adjunct professor of psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center. “If anything, the extent could be underestimated.”
Some suicides may end up classified as overdoses, Rockett explained. And drug poisoning is becoming more common as a method of suicide, he added.
Rockett suspects the rising rates of suicide at all ages are tied to societal and economic changes. “In the 21st century we are facing much more uncertainty than there was in the 20th century,” he explained. “We’ve had a lot of stresses and strains on society. The Iraq war took its toll and then there was the Great Recession of 2008. And all of that was going on at the same time as the beginning and burgeoning of the opioid epidemic.”
SOURCE: bit.ly/2RlHkuL JAMA, online June 18, 2019.