Dramatic Increase in Teen Suicide
CDC Reports Largest Spike in Teen Suicide Rate in 15 Years
Sept. 6, 2007 -- There is a sharp rise in suicides across the board in
teens, says the CDC.
They are up 76% in girls aged 10-14, up 32% in girls aged 15-19, and up 9%
in boys aged 15-19. It's the biggest spike in 15 years, the CDC's latest
teen-suicide statistics show.
"This is a dramatic and huge increase" in pre-teen and teen suicide,
Ileana Arias, PhD, director of the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention
and Control, said at a news conference. "We are seeing this increase in
significantly younger Americans than we have seen in the past."
The data cover the year 2004, the latest year for which numbers are
available. The CDC collects the information from death certificates. Because
coroners and medical examiners don't always have enough information to conclude
that a death was a suicide, the actual number of suicides is likely to be
higher than the official number.
The new numbers reverse a decade-long downward trend in teen and youth
suicide. It's too soon to know whether 2004 was an unusual year, or whether it
marks the beginning of an upward trend. But the data suggest disturbing
One disturbing change is the uptick in girls and young women committing
suicide. The other disturbing change is that hanging or asphyxiation is
becoming much more common -- particularly among 10- to 14-year-old girls.
The rate of suicide by hanging/asphyxiation more than doubled to 68 per
1,000 girls aged 10 to 14. Since 1990, when the CDC began keeping records, this
rate was never higher than 35 per 1,000 girls in the same age group.
It's possible that this new trend toward hanging and asphyxiation is linked
to a choking game that has recently become popular among schoolchildren.
As its name implies, the "game" usually involves using the hands,
rope, or fabric to choke another child until he or she loses consciousness. The
payoffs appear to be the brief "high" achieved during the loss and
regain of oxygen to the brain, and the amusement derived from seeing a peer
As might be expected, this game has resulted in deaths. However, the CDC
does not believe that a significant number of these deaths have been
misclassified as suicides. It remains unclear whether the game is linked to the
growing acceptability of hanging and asphyxiation as a suicide method.
The surge in teen suicide also coincides with a drop in antidepressant prescriptions for teens. This is due to concerns that the drugs may increase
suicide risk for a subset of young people. Some psychiatrists feel this drop in
prescribing is behind the surge in teen suicides, but Arias says this isn't the
only issue involved.