Alarming – Rates of Teen Suicide Continue To Surge in the United States

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Teen suicide is a heartbreaking and increasing problem in the United States. Every year, many young people take their own lives, causing immense pain and loss to those around them. There are many factors that can contribute to a teen considering suicide, including bullying, mental health challenges, substance abuse, and family difficulties. It is crucial for everyone, including parents, teachers, and mental health professionals, to be aware of the warning signs and to offer help and support to those who may be struggling.

The research posits that social media, school stress, and firearms play major roles.

In the United States, suicide has emerged as the second most common cause of premature death among individuals aged 10 to 24. For teenagers aged 13 to 14, it is the leading cause of death.

A team of researchers from Florida Atlantic University’s Schmidt College of Medicine, along with their collaborators, conducted a study to examine the trend in suicide rates among 13 to 14-year-olds in the United States between 1999 and 2018. The study also investigated variations based on factors such as gender, race, degree of urbanization, census region, month, and day of the week.

Results, published online ahead of print in the journal Annals of Pediatrics and Child Health, showed that among children ages 13 to 14, suicide rates more than doubled from 2008 to 2018, following a rise in social media and despite significant declines in suicide mortality in this age group previously from 1999 to 2007. These trends were similar in urban and rural areas but were more common in boys in rural areas where firearms are more prevalent.

These statistically significant increasing trends were similar by sex, race, urbanization, and census regions. In rural areas, firearms were used in 46.7 percent of suicides in boys and 34.7 percent in metropolitan areas. Suicides occurred significantly more often between September and May and were highest on Monday followed by the rest of the weekdays, suggesting school stress was a contributor.

Schmidt College of Medicine

Researchers from FAU’s Schmidt College of Medicine and collaborators suggest social media, school stress, and firearms are major contributors. Credit: Alex Dolce, Florida Atlantic University

“While further analytic studies are needed, there are certainly important clinical and public health implications based on our study findings,” said Sarah K. Wood, M.D., senior author, professor of pediatrics, vice dean for medical education, and interim chair, Department of Women’s and Children’s Health, in FAU’s Schmidt College of Medicine. “Specifically, these descriptive data have temporal correlates with social media, school stress, and firearms, which require further research. In the meanwhile, there are clinical and public health initiatives for those at highest risks.”

From 2007 to 2018, in suicides among U.S. youths aged 13 to 14 years in metropolitan areas (large central, large fringe, medium and small), 56.7 percent were due to hanging, strangulation, or suffocation, while in 34.7 percent, firearms were used. In medium and small metro, 38.9 percent of suicides were due to hanging, strangling, or suffocation, 38.9 percent were due to firearms. In rural (micropolitan and non-core, non-metro) areas, 46.9 percent of suicides were due to hanging, strangulation, or suffocation, while 46.7 percent were due to firearms.

“During the years immediately preceding the onset of increases in rates of suicide among 13 and 14-year-olds, several prominent social media platforms used by teens, including Reddit, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, and Tumblr were launched. In aggregate, all of these sites have grown to billions of users, but large as they are, by 2018, all but YouTube were surpassed in terms of teen use by Instagram and Snapchat,” said Charles H. Hennekens, M.D., DrPH, co-author, first Sir Richard Doll Professor of Medicine, senior academic advisor to the dean, and interim chair, Department of Population Health and Social Medicine, in FAU’s Schmidt College of Medicine, and an adjunct professor of family and community medicine, at Baylor College of Medicine.

Among the four U.S. Census regions, there were remarkably similar and statistically significant increases in all areas, namely the Northeast, Midwest, South, and West.

“Our data show that non-metropolitan areas have higher rates of teen suicide, regardless of method and rural areas have higher rates due to firearms,” said Hennekens.

Reference: “Continuing Alarming Increases in Suicide in American youths: Clinical and Research Challenges” by Robert S. Levine, Elliott M. Levine, Alexandra Rubenstein, Vishnu Muppala, Maria C. Mejia, Sandra Gonzalez, Roger J Zoorob, Charles H. Hennekens and Sarah K. Wood, 19 April 2023, Annals of Pediatrics and Child Health.

For the study, researchers used publicly available data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Multiple Cause of Death” fields.

Co-authors of the study are Robert S. Levine, M.D., first author and professor of Family and Community Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, and an affiliate professor in FAU’s Schmidt College of Medicine; Elliott M. Levine, an undergraduate student at the University of Minnesota; Alexandra Rubenstein, an entering medical student at Tufts University School of Medicine; Vishnu Muppala, M.D., an emergency department physician resident at Maimonides Hospital, and graduate of FAU’s Schmidt College of Medicine; Maria C. Mejia, M.D., MPH, associate professor; Sandra Gonzalez, Ph.D., assistant professor; and Roger J. Zoorob, M.D., MPH, professor and chair, all in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

2 Comments on "Alarming – Rates of Teen Suicide Continue To Surge in the United States"

  1. Eric M. Jones | May 6, 2023 at 8:25 am | Reply

    So you spent your formative years watching video games and by you late teen, know nothing.

  2. Clyde Spencer | May 8, 2023 at 5:56 am | Reply

    “These trends were similar in urban and rural areas but were more common in boys in rural areas where firearms are more prevalent.”
    This is likely a spurious correlation that only reflects the convenience of firearms over other methods in rural areas.

    We have caught up with Japan and now have comparable suicide rates. However, NONE of the Japanese suicides are done with firearms. This demonstrates that other methods are easily substituted for firearms. The 100,000+ opioid overdose deaths may be a reflection of a shift in methods. If firearms were to magically disappear tomorrow, there is little to no reason to expect a significant decline in teen suicides if the actual reasons aren’t addressed. It is impossible to use an approach of Prior Restraint on the methods of suicide, and focusing on firearms detracts from addressing the actual reasons. It would appear that many of the recent ‘mass shootings’ are a variant of “suicide by cop.”

    We need to determine what is wrong with our society that causes widespread depression and ennui that results in ‘premature’ death, and change it.

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