Student Well-Being

Teen Suicides Rising Sharply, Federal Data Show

By Arianna Prothero — October 17, 2019 2 min read
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Teen suicide rates have increased dramatically in the past decade, according to a report released on Thursday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Suicide rates for teens between the ages of 15 and 19 increased by 76 percent between 2007 and 2017. And the suicide rate for 10- to 14-year-olds nearly tripled over that same time period, according to CDC’s data.

It’s a sharp reversal from the previous period—2000 to 2007—when the suicide rate had been stable for the 15-to-19 age group and had even declined for 10- to 14-year-olds.

If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741

While still relatively rare, suicide is now the second leading cause of death among 10- to 19-year-olds. Accidents are the leading cause of death, while homicides rank third.

But the impact of a single suicide can have far reaching, negative effects for the friends, family, and classmates, said Stephen Brock, a professor and school psychology program coordinator at California State University, Sacramento.

“In a given five-year period, for your typically sized high school in the United States, you wouldn’t expect more than one suicide death,” he said. “It has been argued that the larger problem from a public health perspective, it’s not the prevention of suicide, it is rather dealing with those left behind by a suicide.”

Increasing suicide rates are part of an alarming trend of rising mental health issues among school children.

“It’s not so much that there’s large increases in mental illness, but the type and the severity of mental illness has gone up,” said Brock, who formerly served as a president of the National Association of School Psychologists. “In particular we have seen pretty significant increases in girls needing to be hospitalized because of depression.”

Nine out of 10 people who die by suicide, he said, suffer from a mental illness.

Schools often struggle with limited resources and expertise to deal with the wide range of mental-health needs that teens and younger children are now experiencing.

Still, experts say teachers, principals, coaches, and other school staff members are critical players in preventing suicide by recognizing students who may be at risk for harming themselves, by connecting those students with resources and support, and by building relationships throughout the school so that students have multiple people to turn to if they need help.

It’s unclear why mental health issues are increasing among children and youth, though researchers are exploring a number of explanations, including the rise of smartphone and social media use, as well as the prevalence of bullying.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.