Suicide and homicide rates have increased in recent years among young people in the U.S., according to a new federal report.
The suicide rate among people ages 10 to 24 years old climbed 56% between 2007 and 2017, according to the report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rate of homicide deaths decreased by 23% from 2007 to 2014 but then increased by 18% through 2017.
Violent death, including homicide and suicide, is a major cause of premature death for the age group. Around 2010, the death rate of suicides among adolescents and young adults surpassed the rate of homicide deaths, according to the report.
“The chances of a person in this age range dying by suicide is greater than homicide, when it used to be the reverse,” said Sally Curtin, a statistician at the CDC and an author of the report. “When a leading cause of death among our youth is increasing, it behooves all of us to pay attention and figure out what’s going on.”
Suicide rates in general have increased in the U.S. across all ages and ethnic groups, rising roughly 30% from 1999 to 2016. In 2017, suicide was the second-leading cause of death among those ages 10 to 24, behind unintentional injuries, such as car crashes or drug overdoses. Homicide deaths ranked third, according to a CDC report from June 2019.
Ms. Curtin and a colleague, Melonie Heron, pulled death-certificate data from the CDC’s National Vital Statistics System, looking at the underlying cause of death for people ages 10 to 24. They analyzed data from 2000 to 2017, the most recent year of CDC’s available data.
Both suicide and homicide deaths among the age group were relatively stable from 2000 to 2007, the report says.
Within the next decade, suicide deaths increased from 6.8 deaths per 100,000 people to 10.6 deaths, with 2,449 more suicides in 2017 than in 2007. While the 10- to 14-year-olds had by far the lowest rate of suicides, that rate nearly tripled from 2007 to 2017.
“Unfortunately, it’s not surprising, but it is highly disturbing,” said Benjamin Shain, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at NorthShore Medical Group in Illinois, who says he is increasingly seeing adolescent patients at risk for suicide. “To see it statistically across the country hits me in a different way.”
Despite concern over the rising suicide rates, researchers aren’t sure of the exact causes. A rise in depression among adolescents, drug use, stress and access to firearms might all be contributing factors, experts say.
Some mental-health experts suggest that social-media use among teens might be fueling the increase in mental-health conditions and leading to greater suicide risk, and some early studies have linked smartphone use to anxiety, depression and sleep deprivation among adolescents.
The recent visibility of suicide in the media and online might also increase suicide death rates, experts say.
Homicide deaths among youths in the U.S. had decreased dramatically since the 1990s and were mostly in decline and stable through 2014, says Daniel Webster, the co-director for the Johns Hopkins Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence.
The growth in homicide death rates in 2015 and 2016 were largely concentrated in a few cities, such as St. Louis and Chicago.
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The increased homicides are most likely related to drug markets, poverty and the breakdown in the relationship between police and communities, according to experts on youth violence, but it is hard to discern what is influencing the national change.
School-related shootings account for less than 2% of all youth homicide deaths in the U.S., according to the CDC. While school-related mass shootings garner significant attention, they likely don’t influence the national trend.
Data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2018 suggests that the slight upward trend in youth homicide deaths from 2014 through 2017 has started to reverse again.
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