A nearly 60% jump in suicides by young Americans since 2007 has experts alarmed and somewhat puzzled.
Suicides among children and young people aged 10 to 24 rose 57% from 2007 to 2018, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"The increase in youth suicide has been pervasive across the U.S. No area is immune," said report author Sally Curtin of the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics. "Hopefully, these data will inform prevention efforts."
The surge was broad: 42 states had statistically significant increases between 2007-2009 and 2016-2018. Eight had statistically insignificant increases. Thirty-two states had hikes of 30% to 60%.
In actual numbers, the suicide rate among 10- to 24-year-olds jumped from about 7 per 100,000 in 2007 to nearly 11 per 100,000 in 2018, according to the National Vital Statistics Report published Sept. 11.
Jonathan Singer is president of the American Association of Suicidology. He said the increases in suicides in 2007-2009 were likely driven by the recession, which makes the average spike in 2016-2018 a little surprising. But he did note that gun sales increased during that time.
Singer said parents need to watch for signs that their children are troubled.
"Any time that a kid makes a statement to the effect of, 'I don't think that people care if I die,' or 'I think people would be better off if I weren't around,' you've got to take it seriously," said Singer, an associate professor in the School of Social Work at Loyola University Chicago.
Also, he said, if a young person withdraws from usual activities or is bullied on social media, it shouldn't be ignored.
Singer cited some places to reach out for help. Among them: the Crisis Text Line and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. For LGBT young people, there's the Trevor Project. For college students, campus counseling is often available, and if you're in the military, there's the Veterans Crisis Line.
Because suicide is often impulsive, getting immediate help can defuse the impulse to kill yourself, said Singer, who wasn't part of the CDC report.
"Having a five- to 10-minute chat or phone conversation in the moment when something is stressful can be just as valuable as spending an hour a month in therapy," Singer said.
In the new report, the researchers found that the suicide rate for adolescents and young adults more than doubled in New Hampshire between 2007 and 2018. Elsewhere, rate increases included 22% in Maryland; 41% in Illinois; 51% in Colorado, and 79% in Oregon.
In 2016-2018, suicide rates among young people were highest in Alaska, while some of the lowest rates were in the Northeast. Yet even New Jersey, which had the lowest rate in that three-year period, saw a 39% increase, Curtin pointed out.
Dr. Emmy Betz, an associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, thinks the reasons for the increases in young people's suicides are complicated and not clearly understood.
"The first thing is just to look out for each other, for our kids, for our communities and ask if we're worried about someone and say something," she said. "It can feel awkward, but people are grateful, usually."
Use available resources, added Betz, who is also a spokesperson for the American College of Emergency Physicians. She was not involved with the study.
"The crisis hotline is free and available, and there's online chat, so there are ways to reach out and get help even if you feel like you don't want to talk to someone in your life about what you're going through," Betz said. "Or if you're worried about someone and you don't know what to do, you can always call those resources as well."
If someone is having an immediate crisis, call 911 for help, she added.
Betz noted that parents should keep the tools of suicide, such as guns and drugs, locked so that young people can't get to them.
Singer added that what this new report doesn't reflect is a very large increase in suicidal thoughts among youth this year, largely due to the coronavirus pandemic and a souring economy.
"But it is also important to know that there's not a direct relationship between an increase in suicidal thoughts and a corresponding increase in suicide deaths," he said.