Nationwide suicide rates rose in 2021 after two years of declines, and new data show an especially concerning increase among Black adolescents and young adults.
Black people ages 10-24 saw a 36.6% increase in suicide rates from 2018-’21, according to a new Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“As the nation continues to respond to the short- and long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, remaining vigilant in prevention efforts is critical, especially among disproportionately affected populations where longer-term impacts might compound preexisting inequities in suicide risk,” authors wrote.
Researchers looked at national suicide data from 2018-’21 and found 48,183 suicides in 2021 for an age adjusted rate of 14.1 per 100,000 people. The rate per 100,000 is up from 13.5 in 2020 and 13.9 in 2019 and just shy of the 2018 peak of 14.2.
Age-adjusted suicide rates in 2021 were highest among American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) people at 28.1 per 100,000. The rate for this group rose 26% from 2018-’21, according to the study.
People ages 25-44 had the highest relative rate change over the study period at 5% followed by those ages 10-24 at 2.8%.
Looking more closely at the 10-24 age group, suicide rates were highest for the AI/AN population in 2021 (36.3 per 100,000), but the greatest increase was seen for those who are Black. Rates for Black young people rose 36.6% followed by 16.7% for AI/AN people, 13.9% for multiracial people, 10.6% for Asian people and 8.2% for Hispanic/Latino people. White people ages 10-24 saw a 3.9% decrease.
In the Blueprint for Youth Suicide Prevention, the AAP and its partners recommend screening all youths ages 12 years and older for suicide risk and screening those 8-11 years when clinically indicated.
“Universal screening is an important way to help all patients feel less alone with suicidal thoughts. Otherwise, they may pass through healthcare settings undetected,” according to the blueprint, which also says universal screening helps promote equity.
The AAP has been sounding the alarm on mental health issues. In 2021, the AAP and its partners declared a national emergency in children’s mental health citing the serious toll of the COVID-19 pandemic on top of existing challenges. Last fall, they renewed their call for federal action.
In the State of the Union address this week, President Joe Biden acknowledged the need for more action to protect children’s mental health.
“When millions of young people are struggling with bullying, violence, trauma, we owe them greater access to mental health care at their schools,” he said.
He also called for more accountability from social media companies and a ban on advertising targeted to children.
The AAP announced last fall it will be addressing the intersection of mental health and social media through its new Center of Excellence: Creating a Healthy Digital Ecosystem for Children and Youth. The center is being created with a $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services through the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration. It will share evidence around the benefits and risks of social media use and expand the growing field of research around actionable solutions to protect youth mental health online.
“With our deep expertise in both mental health and in digital technology, and with the growing crisis in child and adolescent mental health continuing to be an area of organizational focus, there could not be a more important time for AAP to help confront these challenges and use our voice to make needed change for children and adolescents,” AAP CEO/Executive Vice President Mark Del Monte, J.D., said in the announcement.
- U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is available at https://www.988lifeline.org or by texting or calling 988.
- Blueprint for Youth Suicide Prevention
- AAP suicide prevention resources
- AAP statement of endorsement Guidelines for Adolescent Depression in Primary Care (GLAD-PC): Part I. Practice Preparation, Identification, Assessment, and Initial Management
- Bright Futures health promotion and prevention initiative
- AAP clinical report Promoting Optimal Development: Screening for Behavioral and Emotional Problems
- AAP mental health initiatives
- AAP interim guidance on children’s emotional and behavioral health during the pandemic
- Information for parents from HealthyChildren.org on mental health during the pandemic
- CDC suicide prevention resources
- U.S. surgeon general advisory “Protecting Youth Mental Health”
- Information from the American Medical Association on integrating behavioral health care into a clinical practice