- Suicide rates are up dramatically in the US, according to data from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Nurses, construction workers, and students are all at risk.
- Suicide rates are also up among kids, teens, and young adults from ages 10 to 24.
- This is true even though death rates from other leading causes, including cancer, homicides, and accidents are all going down for young people.
- Developmental psychologist Peter Grey told Insider that young people are under immense academic stress today and more anxious than ever. He says that “childhood has become a period of resume-building,” to the detriment of kids’ mental health.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The number of young people dying by suicide has skyrocketed in recent years, a troubling trend that health experts say will likely continue if it goes unaddressed.
In 2000, the CDC tallied 4,294 deaths by suicide in people from ages 10 to 24. But in 2017 (the most recent year for which the CDC has final data) that number rose by more than 50%, to 6,769 young people.
“Rates will likely continue to go up if we don’t, as a society, really put more emphasis on comprehensive suicide prevention,” CDC suicide prevention researcher Deb Stone previously told Business Insider.
Suicide rates are up in almost every US state, and they’re rising for both men and women
Suicide is now the second leading cause of death for people from 10 to 34, according to the CDC, but there’s rarely one single reason for it. Some of the most common factors that contribute to suicide can include relationship issues, crises, job or school stresses, and physical health problems.
No demographic group is immune to the trend (men over 75 and Native Americans still have some of the highest suicide rates in the country). But the recent rise in pre-teen, teenage, and young adult deaths is especially disturbing given how fast it has gone up, and the fact that it’s bucking a trend of improving death rates for young people from other leading causes of death like accidents, homicides, and cancer.
Child psychologist Peter Grey has been investigating how child and teen suicides seem to track neatly with the academic school year. He says that “childhood has become a period of resume-building,” leaving kids more stressed about tests and with less time for free play, which is vital to their mental health.
“People want to blame social media, they want to blame video games, they want to blame bullying by other kids – this is the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about,” Grey told Insider.
He says play is the critical way that young people learn to build resilience and courage in ways they can’t when their parents and teachers are watching.
“They play in risky ways,” he said. “They chase one another around, they fight, they play fight. They do things that look dangerous. And what they’re doing is they are learning how to deal with fear.”
Grey is involved with the nonprofit organisation Let Grow, which is working with some US schools to incorporate more unstructured time into kids’ schooldays.
“What makes kids happy is freedom and play,” he said.
It’s OK to ask ‘Are you thinking about killing yourself?’ if you’re worried someone might be suicidal
Only a medical professional can diagnose someone as suicidal, but asking the question, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” and providing a judgment-free space for someone to talk about their feelings can be extremely helpful.
There are also a few warning signs to keep an eye out for if you’re worried that someone close to you may be suicidal. These include:
- Threatening to hurt or kill him/her/themself
- Looking for ways to complete suicide, like getting access to pills or a gun
- Talking about death, dying, or suicide out loud or on social media
- Rage and revenge-seeking
- Being reckless or doing uncharacteristically risky things
- Feeling trapped and withdrawing from social activities
- Anxiety or trouble sleeping
- Dramatic shifts in mood
It’s a myth that talking about suicide might somehow plant the idea in a person’s mind. Telling someone you care and want to help is always a good idea. Mental-health trainers say one of the best things you can do for someone is express concern and willingness to help – then let them do most of the talking.
Reminding someone that suicidal thoughts are common and often associated with a treatable mental disorder can also be a way to support them. Ask that person to think about some things that may have helped them in the past, like a doctor, therapist, family member, or friend. Don’t ever use guilt or threats to try to prevent a suicide.
“Help people,” as CDC Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat said last year. “Look for those warning signs in people you love and care for.”