Youth Suicide in the US Is Rare but Rising, Expert Says

  • The suicide rate among young people has risen in recent years.
  • It’s is the second-leading cause of death for adolescents in the US, according to CDC data.
  • CDC medical epidemiologist Dr. Alex Crosby told Insider that youth suicide is rare but has been on the rise.

Isabella “Izzy” Tichenor, a 10-year-old girl, died last Saturday after a lawyer for her family said she had been bullied at school.

An October report from the Department of Justice, which was published weeks before Izzy’s death, said officials in her Utah school district had improperly handled instances of racial harassment and ignored complaints filed by Black and Asian American families.

The DOJ report was the result of an investigation that began in 2019, as Insider previously reported.

“Izzy was a happy child. She was a happy little girl, she did well in school … All she wanted was to be connected with family and friends,” the family lawyer told CNN.

Youth suicide is rare in the United States but has been on the rise, Dr. Alex Crosby, a medical epidemiologist at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and professor of community health and preventive medicine at Morehouse School of Medicine, who has studied the topic, told Insider.

According to data from National Vital Statistics Reports published in September 2020 through the CDC, the suicide rate among young people increased in the decade from 2007 to 2018 after staying stagnant for the previous decade.

Among persons aged 10–24, the rate was stable between 2000 to 2007 but increased 57.4%, from 6.8 deaths per 100,000 in 2007 to 10.7 deaths per 100,000 in 2018. From 2016-2018, data showed that youth suicide rates were highest in the state of Alaska and were lowest in the Northeast.

“There are a number of factors that play a role in that,” Crosby said of the rising rate of suicide among children. “One of the things to also consider is increasing suicide rates overall.”

According to CDC data, the total age-adjusted suicide rate in the US increased 35.2% between 1999 and 2018 before declining 2.1% from 2018.

“Bullying is definitely one that has been identified as a factor that can play a role in suicidal behavior among adolescents,” he added. “Substance abuse is another one that could be a cause.”

‘Adverse childhood experiences’ can lead to suicidal ideation in youths

Potentially traumatic childhood experiences that include physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, as well as neglect, can also put children at risk for suicidal behavior, Crosby said. These experiences, referred to as adverse childhood experiences, occur during childhood up to the age of 17. They can also include witnessing violence, substance abuse, or mental health issues in the home or community, or having a close relative attempt or die by suicide, according to the CDC.

Other factors include parents divorcing, the incarceration of a loved one, the death of a parent or guardian, or even violence in a child’s community, Crosby said.

Peter Gray, a child psychologist, previously told Insider’s Hillary Brueck he believed that increased stress at school was one of the largest factors contributing to youth suicide.

“What we’re doing to children in school is, in my mind, cruel,” Gray told Insider in 2019. “People want to blame social media, they want to blame video games, they want to blame bullying by other kids — this is the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about.”

Some studies have also found differences in the youth suicide rate by race. Past research has found that young Black children have a higher suicide rate compared to white children, according to a 2018 study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics that analyzed data from 2001 through 2015.

According to the study, Black children between the ages of five and 12 were about twice as likely to die by suicide than their white peers in the same age group.

Crosby said some studies had also suggested that children with learning disabilities had an increased likelihood of an attempt at suicide or other forms of self-harm.

“It’s not just one thing, but oftentimes there’s an interaction of various things that can put an individual at risk,” Crosby said.

Overall, instances of youth suicide are “rare,” Crosby said, even though the rate has risen. But among people aged 10-24, data shows suicide is the second-leading cause of death behind unintentional injuries, like car accidents.

In Utah, where Izzy died, suicide is the number one leading cause of death among young people, Crosby said.

Some warning signs to consider

Behavioral changes in children, like skipping school or becoming isolated from loved ones, could serve as a warning sign that something is wrong with a child, Crosby said. Other signs include “aggressive or hostile behavior,” being “preoccupied with death,” or running away from home, according to the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan.

And eradicating even some of the factors that can lead a child to suicide can be enough to stop suicidal ideation, he said.

“It turns out that many of the interventions don’t have to address all of those factors but can address one or two of them and be successful with that and actually prevent suicidal behavior,” Crosby said.

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