Adolescent suicide rates are on the rise, especially among young girls, according to a new study.
The findings are prompting calls for research into the role of gender in suicide, the second-leading cause of death for youths ages 10-19 years.
To look at long-term trends, researchers analyzed 1975-2016 data from the Wide-ranging Online Data for Epidemiologic Research records on youths ages 10-19.
During that time, about 85,051 youths committed suicide, and about 80% were males, according to “Trends in Suicide Among Youth Aged 10 to 19 Years in the United States, 1975 to 2016,” (Ruch DA, et al. JAMA Netw Open. May 17, 2019, http://bit.ly/2Jm4kJe).
Rates rose from the mid-1970s until the early 1990s, then started falling until 2007. Since 2007, they have been on the rise again.
Across the study period, the male-to-female incidence rate ratio for ages 10-14 years fell from 3.14 to 1.8. Since 2007, the average suicide rate among girls in this age group increased nearly 13% a year compared to 7% for boys.
Among 15- to 19-year-olds, the male-to-female incidence rate ratio dropped from 4.15 in 1975 to 3.31 in 2007. Since 2007, suicide rates for girls have been rising 8% a year compared to 3.5% for boys.
During the entire study period, the gaps between males and females closed the most among young white youths and older youths in a racial group that included American Indian, Alaska Native, Asian or Pacific Islander.
Results also showed the rates of hanging or suffocation increased more for girls than for boys.
“It is troubling that a growing proportion of female youth are choosing this more violent and lethal method, as it is well documented female individuals have higher rates of attempted suicide,” authors wrote.
They said more study into the role of gender could help inform interventions.
Authors of a related commentary said girls’ frequent use of social media and likelihood of experiencing cyberbullying may be factors. They called the study’s findings an “urgent public health issue that merits further investigation.”
“Increasing rates of suicidality may be the ‘canary in the coal mine’ signaling important health concerns arising from the increased and pervasive use of social media affecting child and adolescent development,” they wrote. “Such a signal in general health would raise great alarm and calls to action, and it must not go unheeded in mental health.”