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Suicide Rates are on the Rise for America's Youth

Suicide Rates are on the Rise for America's Youth

Suicide rates are on the rise among America’s youth, and parents, caregivers and pediatricians are trying to better understand this public health crisis which has been exacerbated by the pandemic. And despite the common belief that suicide rates increase sharply in winter when the days are cold and dark, suicide rates are higher during this time of year.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for children and adolescents. Between 2007 and 2019, the suicide death rate rose 166% for children 8 to 12 years old and nearly doubled for teens. Suicide rates remain highest among white, Native American and Alaska natives, however a recent study suggests that African American kids are more likely than those of other races to report suicidal attempts. A national survey conducted by the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention group for the LGBTQ+ youth finds that adolescents of color who identify as LGBTQ+ may be at a higher risk of suicide.

Adolescence can be a vulnerable time for most kids as they enter puberty and try to determine who they are and who they can be. Some kids are vocal about their struggles while others may hide negative feelings from family and friends. Possible causes for the increase in suicide are variable but include the negative effects of smart phone usage and cyberbullying, changes in home environments, history of trauma or domestic violence, monetary pressures, worry about fitting in and being accepted by their peers, sexual orientation, and the COVID-19 pandemic to name a few.

Parents often worry that talking about suicide could make it more likely but asking a child who may have a hard time admitting they need help could lead to lifesaving conversation. Here are some warning signs to watch out for:

  • Isolation from friends and family members
  • Mood swings
  • Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Dropping grades
  • Increased drug and alcohol use
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or trapped
  • Writing or drawing death or suicide
  • Expressing thoughts of not belonging or being a burden to others
  • Reckless behavior
  • Talking about suicide or wanting to die

There are also some risk factors that could make can make children more vulnerable to suicide, like family history of suicide, access to firearms and drugs, bullying, and having an existing mental health or substance use disorder.

More research is needed, but communities must improve access to mental health services and invest in suicide prevention and intervention strategies that are tailored to the diverse needs of children of all races. If your child or loved one has any of these warning signs or has talked about attempting suicide, call the National Suicide and Crisis at 988, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.