Teen Suicide Rates Increasing

Maureen Robb's picture
By Maureen Robb on August 10, 2017

In 2015, more than 2,000 teenagers ages 15 to 19 committed suicide. About 1,500 were boys and 500 were girls.

For every teen who goes through with suicide, though, there are many more who try.

“One in 10 makes some kind of suicide attempt,” said J. Eric Vance, M.D., a psychiatrist with Carilion Clinic’s Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. “Teens are believed to commit suicide as a reaction to being depressed by major stresses in their lives,” Dr. Vance noted.

The main ones include:

  • Breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend
  • Disciplinary actions such as getting grounded at home or suspended at school
  • Being charged or arrested due to a legal infraction
  • Social stresses like being dropped from a circle of friends or being bullied, either in person or via social media

Teen suicide rates have been climbing in recent years, and suicide is now the second cause of death among teenagers, after accidents. Even more troubling is that the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a national survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that one in five teenagers in the past year has thought about suicide.

What can parents do to keep their child safe?

“Parents need to be aware of the common symptoms of depression in their teenager,” Dr. Vance said.

They include:

  • Changes in behavior
  • Irritability
  • Anger problems, often accompanied by social withdrawal from family or friends
  • Low energy
  • Crying spells
  • Changes in appetite or eating patterns
  • Lack of interest in their usual activities

“If you think your child is depressed, seek treatment immediately,” said Dr. Vance. “Get them into emergency mental health assessment, which is available 24/7 at any community hospital.”

“Once you recognize depression in your child, it’s important to not leave them alone,” he added. “Remove all probable means of suicide, like firearms, sharp objects, pills, alcohol and drugs from your home.”

Almost half of completed teen suicides involve alcohol, which can lower teen inhibitions and give them the courage to carry out a suicide attempt.

“The good news is that depression is very treatable and we’re getting better at treating it all the time,” Dr. Vance noted. “We know treatment can reduce depression.”

And as I’m sure we’d all agree, even one young life lost is one too many.

Learn more about warning signs of depression in teenagers.