It’s a statistic that stops the heart: Suicide has become the leading cause of death among American youth ages 10 to 14.
The grim news emerges from a new report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that covers the years 1999 to 2014. It shows that around the middle of 2013, suicide topped motor vehicle accidents as the leading cause of death among youth. The rate has only continued to climb since then.
"It's clear to me that the question of suicidal thoughts and behavior in this age group has certainly come up far more frequently in the last decade than it had in the previous decade," Dr. Marsha Levy-Warren, a clinical psychologist in New York who works with adolescents, told The New York Times.
"Cultural norms have changed tremendously from 20 years ago," she said. "If something gets said that's hurtful or humiliating, it's not just the kid who said it who knows, it's the entire school or class."
No single cause for suicide
The problem of young people killing themselves can’t be attributed to any single factor. But suicide may seem like the only option to someone who is burdened with problems that seem insurmountable.
It’s up to all of us to be alert to signs of depression, anxiety and other conditions that may put someone at risk of taking his own life. Studies show that warning signs or risk factors for adolescent suicide include:
- Depression or other disorder, or a drastic change in behavior
- Abuse of alcohol or other substances
- Family history of suicide
- Previous suicide attempts
- Talking about committing suicide
- Stressful events, such as a recent loss
- Being bullied
- Change in eating or sleeping patterns
- Giving away possessions
- Being socially isolated, or withdrawing from friends and activities
- Access to lethal means, such as a gun or sleeping pills
- A belief that suicide is an acceptable solution to a problem
Responding to warning signs
The organization Screening for Mental Health Inc. uses the acronym ACT as a guide for how to respond to warning signs.
- Acknowledge. If someone is talking about suicide, take it seriously and listen. Don’t dismiss it or laugh it off. Make it clear you are paying attention to the person’s pain.
- Care. Express your concern. Your support can be a lifeline to a suffering person who may feel isolated.
- Treatment. Help the person get mental health treatment immediately.
Ideally, you will be able to connect a suicidal person to a trained professional. In a critical moment, you can also get help from a suicide crisis line, such as the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. It’s available 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255.
Background and resources
See “Suicide warning signs” on the website of the American Psychological Association.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention also has a useful page on risk factors and warning signs at its website.
You can find the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website here.
The CDC report that shows the death rates for young people ages 10 to 14 is published on the agency’s website.