In 2015, five girls out of every 100,000 between ages 15 and 19 committed suicide in the United States.
The rate is double what it was in 2007, and the highest in 40 years for that age group, according to newly released data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The reasons for the rise are complex — researchers refer, in part, to teens’ increasing access to social media, a lack of mental-health resources and a stigma against suicidal behavior — and are not entirely understood. But for suicide-prevention advocates and researchers, the announcement about the 40-year high wasn’t a shock.
“It doesn’t surprise me that it has come to this spot,” said James Mazza, a University of Washington professor in the College of Education’s School Psychology.
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A CDC analysis found that 524 girls and women ages 15 to 19 died by suicide in 2015 in the United States. The rate for young women is much lower than for young men — in 2015, 1,537 boys and men ages 15 and 19 committed suicide.
But the rising rate among young women is troubling, suicide-prevention advocates said, and it signals a need for parents and educators to address the stigma of suicidal thoughts and behavior.
He can’t point to one specific reason for suicidal behavior, Mazza said, but social media probably hasexacerbated the problems teens face. That includes the pressure to fit in.
“We have kids who have access to social media 24/7 that’s providing extra opportunities, especially with teen girls, to make comparisons among themselves,” he said. “There’s a hypervigilance of how they fit in. They don’t see themselves as like the other girls they see on Facebook and Snapchat. We also need to be worried about boys, as their suicide rates are still higher than girls, and they face increased pressure and scrutiny as well.”
More girls tend to have internalized disorders — anxiety, depression or anorexia — that are difficult for parents or school staff to see if they don’t know the signs. A study published last year in the journal Pediatrics found that about 17 percent of teen girls have experienced a major depressive episode in the past year, compared with 6 percent of teen boys. Males have higher rates of ADHD, substance abuse or anti-social behaviors that are easier to spot, so they might have a better chance of receiving help, Mazza said.
Without more intervention, Mazza said, the numbers are likely to rise.
“I’ve been writing about this for 20 years,” he said, “and I thought the rates were high 20 years ago.”
Signs of potential suicidal behavior include talking about dying, changes in personality; behavior, sleep patterns or eating habits; and a fear of losing control.
For information, support and referrals, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or contact TeenLink at 866-833-6546. If a teen is in an emergency, call 911 or go immediately to the nearest hospital emergency room.