Spike in Suicide Rates for Young Girls Sends Warning to Parents

Suicide rates among young girls jumped in recent years by 8 percent – the largest spike in 15 years.

Suicides for young people ages 10-24 had declined 28.5 percent between 1990 and 2003, but between 2003 and 2004, the rate increased dramatically, according to a report released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"This is the biggest annual increase that we've seen in 15 years. We don′t yet know if this is a short-lived increase or if it′s the beginning of a trend," said Dr. Ileana Arias, director of CDC′s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, in the report. "Either way, it′s a harsh reminder that suicide and suicide attempts are affecting too many youth and young adults. We need to make sure suicide prevention efforts are continuous and reaching children and young adults."

For girls 10-14 years old, deaths jumped by 75.9 percent, from 56 reported cases to 94. Among 15- to 19-year-old women, the number increased from 256 to 355, up 32.3 percent. For 15- to 19-year-old males, suicide deaths went up 9 percent from 1,222 to 1,345.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 10 and 24, according to the CDC. It results in approximately 4,600 lives lost each year.

The analysis of annual data from the CDC′s National Vital Statistics System also found changes in the methods used to attempt suicide. While firearms were the most common method in 1990, hanging and suffocation were the most common methods of suicide among girls in 2004. There was a 119 percent increase in hanging/suffocation suicides among 10- to 14-year-old girls from 2003 to 2004. For males, firearms remained the most common method.

Although suicide deaths are a serious public health problem, more young people survive suicide attempts than actually die. An earlier CDC survey of youth in grades 9-12 in the United States found that 17 percent of students reported seriously considering suicide, 13 percent reported creating a plan, and 8 percent reported trying to take their own life in the 12 months preceding the survey.

"It is important for parents, health care professionals, and educators to recognize the warning signs of suicide in youth," said Dr. Keri Lubell, a behavioral scientist in CDC′s Injury Center and lead author of the study. "Parents and other caring adults should look for changes in youth such as talking about taking one′s life, feeling sad or hopeless about the future. Also look for changes in eating or sleeping habits and even losing the desire to take part in favorite activities."

The release of the report comes as experts debate over whether antidepressants increased the risk of suicide in a small percentage of young people who took them, according to The New York Times.
Antidepressants are the most prescribed drug in the United States but in 2003, studies suggested that the drugs may increase suicidal thinking and behavior in some children. In early 2005, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) required a black box, its strongest warning label, to warn about the increased risks.

While sales of antidepressants have reportedly dropped, experts are noting how that coincides with the dramatic rise in suicides.

But you cannot conclude that the drop in prescriptions caused the increase, said Thomas Laughren of the FDA's division of psychiatry products, according to USA Today.

"Suicide is a multidimensional and complex problem," CDC's Arias said. "As much as we'd like to attribute suicide to a single source so we can fix it, unfortunately we can't do that."

"This study demands that we strengthen our efforts to help parents, schools and health care providers prevent things that increase the risk of suicide," said Arias in the report. "We need to build on the efforts dedicated to education, screening and treatment and bridge the gap between the knowledge we currently have and the action we must take."

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