After falling over 28% during the period 1990 – 2003, suicide rates in America for males and females aged 10-24 climbed 8% – this is the largest single one-year rise in 15 years, says a CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) report ‘Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR)’.

In 1990 the suicide rate for 10-24 year-olds was 9.48 per 100,000 people; in 2003 it fell to 6.78 per 100,000 people; in 2004 it rose to 7.32 per 100,000 people.

Dr. Ileana Arias, director of CDC′s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, said “This is the biggest annual increase that we’ve seen in 15 years. We don’t yet know if this is a short-lived increase or if it’s the beginning of a trend. Either way, it’s a harsh reminder that suicide and suicide attempts are affecting too many youth and young adults. We need to make sure suicide prevention efforts are continuous and reaching children and young adults.”

The report is the result of a study of yearly data from the NVSS (National Vital Statistics System), which is run by the CDC. The NVSS consists of the following US records: fetal deaths, divorces, marriages, deaths and births. The researchers examined trends during the period 1990-2004, breaking them down to age groups, suicide method, and sex. Why suicide rates may have changed was not part of their task.

The suicide rates for 10-14 year-old girls, 15-19 year old girls and 15-19 year-old boys are what accounted for the overall increase, says the report.

— 10-14 year old girls: Suicide rate in 1990 was 0.54 per 100,000; in 2004 it rose to 0.95.
— 15-19 year-old girls: Suicide rate in 1990 was 2.66 per 100,000; in 2004 it rose to 3.52.
— 15-19 year-old boys: Suicide rate in 1990 was 11.61 per 100,000; in 2004 it rose to 12.62.
(Up to 2003 the suicide rates for the three above-mentioned groups were gradually coming down.)

The researchers found that methods used to commit/attempt suicide have changed:

— 1990: The most common method was with a firearm for both sexes.
— 2004: The most common method was by hanging/suffocation among girls; 74% of suicides by 10-14 year-old girls and 49% of suicides by 15-19 year-old girls happened with this method.
— During the year 2003/2004 the proportion of suicides among 10-14 year-old girls who used hanging/suffocation rose by 119%.
— Boys and young men continue to use firearms as the most common method to commit suicide.

Dr. Keri Lubell, lead author of the study, said “It is important for parents, health care professionals, and educators to recognize the warning signs of suicide in youth. Parents and other caring adults should look for changes in youth such as talking about taking one’s life, feeling sad or hopeless about the future. Also look for changes in eating or sleeping habits and even losing the desire to take part in favorite activities.”

A previous CDC survey found that among young people in public/private schools in the USA, grades 9-12:

— 17% said they had seriously considered suicide.
— 13% said they had created a plan to commit suicide.
— 8% said they had tried to take their own life.
(These figures refer to a period of 12 months preceding the survey.)

Dr. Arias said, “This study demands that we strengthen our efforts to help parents, schools and health care providers prevent things that increase the risk of suicide. We need to build on the efforts dedicated to education, screening and treatment and bridge the gap between the knowledge we currently have and the action we must take.”

The CDC hopes its National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) will evolve into a promising approach to capture data which will help better understand the circumstances surrounding suicide.

Useful web sites:

The CDC says the media has a role to play in educating the public about suicide prevention. It says its research shows stories about suicide which can inform readers about the likely causes of suicide – including warning signs, trends and recent advances in treatments. Reporting on Suicide: Recommendations for the Media

Written by: Chrisitan Nordqvist