The Rise of Teen Suicide
Tue, April 20, 2021

The Rise of Teen Suicide

Most people think that being young is a blessing. Teens only have to think of finishing their assignments, going out for movies with their friends, or what they’ll have to eat the next morning -- without thinking of too many responsibilities. But, this reality is not true for many teens. Each has a different story to tell: they might have bullies harassing them, their parents might divorcing, or academic pressure might be crushing them. For some, it’s gender concerns -- they have or haven’t come out and they feel the pressure to do so.

All of these often lead to depression or other mental illnesses. While teens understand that they need professional help in dealing with their mental health, some have no access to mental health services. Their culture might not also be very welcoming at all. These teens are at high risk of suicide. While suicide is preventable, reports show that the rates of suicide are increasing across the world. Now, it is the second leading cause of death in adolescents and young adults.

Controversy has swirled around the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why,” which revolves around a girl who kills herself and leaves behind tapes to explain her decision to end her life. While some people argue that the series has stimulated a positive conversation around the topic, statistics don’t agree. A study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry reported that there was a 28.9% increase in suicide rates in young people ages 10 to 17 in the month after the show’s release in April 2017.

This goes to show that while discussing suicide is highly important, we should all still be careful with the way we go about addressing it. Teens need to understand that they can reach out for help. Discussing suicide correctly and in an ethical way is necessary in order to destigmatize it.

Teen Suicide in Numbers

Changes in teen behaviors are often viewed as a rite of passage or “teen angst.” Most people think that these changes are normal and that they are not of much concern. However, it’s important to be aware of and understand the risk factors of teen suicide. Data from the American Psychiatric Association (APA) shows that a rise in teenage suicides specifically has far outpaced the increase in suicides in general.

A 2019 report from the Center for Disease Control states that teenage suicide rates have increased by nearly 56% from 2007 to 2017. The rate jumped to about 10.8 deaths per 100,000 people between the ages of 10 and 24 from 6.8 deaths. According to the Washington Post, a major American daily newspaper published in Washington, D.C, CDC statistician Sally C. Curtin stated that the trend mirrors a similar uptick in homicides across other age groups. 

Aside from that, a 2019 study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology showed that the mental health of teens and young adults in the US has dramatically declined. The findings revealed that the rates of depression among kids ages 14 to 17 increased by more than 60% between 2009 and 2017. Vox, a liberal-leaning American news and opinion website owned by Vox Media, reported that US teen and young adult suicide rates are highest on record. Suicide deaths among young people ages 15 to 24 were 13.6 per 100,000 people in 1994, which increased by 14.5 in 2017. 

The findings of the study also showed that there’s a high increase of suicide among those age 12 to 13 (47%) and 18 to 21 (46%), while rates roughly doubled among those age 20 to 21. “I think this is quite a wake-up call. These findings are coming together with other kinds of evidence that show we’re not supporting our adolescents in developmentally appropriate ways,” Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, a professor of psychology and education at the University of Southern California, said. 

Time, an American weekly news magazine and news website published in New York City, reported that these trends were the same when the researchers analyzed the data on suicides, attempted suicides, and “serious psychological distress.” Serious psychological distress describes people’s state when they score high on a test that measures feelings of sadness, nervousness, and hopelessness. Between 2008 and 2017, several reports had one major finding: rates of suicidal thoughts, plans and attempts all increased significantly, and, in some cases, more than doubled. 

“There is an overwhelming amount of data from many different sources, and it all points in the same direction: more mental health issues among American young people,” Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, said. 

What Causes the Increasing Cases of Teen Suicide

There are several indicators or warning signs that show that teens urgently need help. According to VeryWell Mind, a trusted and compassionate online resource that provides guidance on mental health, this includes severe mood swings; disregard for personal appearance; statements of hopelessness, helplessness, or worthlessness; preoccupation with death; withdrawal or loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, and others. What’s causing today’s young people so much anguish?

Unfortunately, there has been no consistent evidence showing the causes of teen suicide. But, previous studies have shown that there’s a strong link between heavy technology use and poor mental health outcomes among adolescents and young adults. Twenge acknowledged that the way young people communicate and spend their leisure time has fundamentally changed. “They spend less time with their friends in person and less time sleeping, and more time on digital media,” she said. 

Kirsten A. Bechtel, MD, a Yale Medicine specialist in the Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital (YNHCH), stated that social media sites also drive a vulnerable teen to despair. The negative feedback they get from their peers or strangers heavily affects their self-esteem. The good thing is that specialists said that thoughts of suicide for most young patients are manageable. 

“It may be a lifelong vulnerability, but there are many people who used to have an anxiety disorder or depression. We need to foster a belief in the treatment and the understanding that having these problems can be part of life,” said Eli Lebowitz, Ph.D., the director of the Program for Anxiety Disorders at the Yale Child Study Center.