By Lauren Rearick
There’s another public health crisis in America — suicide rates among American teenagers have increased by 56 percent between 2007 and 2017, according to a National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) report released on Thursday (October 19).
Suicide is now the second leading cause of death among Americans ages 10 to 24; accidents are still the leading cause of death. For context, the Centers for Disease Control reported that 2,813,503 Americans died in 2017, and of those deaths, 47,173 Americans died by suicide. Suicide remained the tenth-highest cause of death in America in 2017.
And though people have pointed to substance use, social media, and consumption of media as possibly contributing to young people’s worsening mental health and suicidal contemplation, Ursula Whiteside, a researcher with the University of Washington, told the Washington Post that there are far too many unknowns to blame any one culprit for the epidemic. “The truth is anyone who says they definitively know what is causing it doesn’t know what they’re talking about,” she said. “It’s a complex problem with no easy answers so far.”
Caroline Oppenheimer, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh, told MTV News that suicide rates have continued to rise since the 1990s, but the most dramatic rise has been within the last decade, and health experts aren’t sure why. “We don’t know what is causing the increase,” she said. “Some of the data is just coming out, and it could be multiple factors.”
Lisa M. Horowitz, a pediatric psychologist at the National Institute of Mental Health, told the Post these findings are “disturbing.” Just as concerning to her is the fact that widespread concern has yet to hit a tipping point that would generate cultural action. Adding to that is the fact that suicide is still extraordinarily stigmatized, and plenty of people don’t know how to discuss it in a healthy way.
“If you had kids suddenly dying at these rates from a new disease or infection, there would be a huge outcry,” Horowitz said. “But most people don’t even know this is happening. It’s not recognized for the public health crisis it has become.”
Oppenheimer agreed, and told MTV News that more studies are needed, and that researchers are looking into the role social media might play in affecting young people’s mental health. “We know that the biggest, dramatic rise in suicide rates coincide with the rise of social media use,” she said. However, she cautioned that it’s far too early to definitively say whether social media has any direct correlation on the increase.
As mental health experts continue to research the mental health of teenagers, Oppenheimer noted that it’s important for everyone, regardless of their age, to remain open to talking about their mental health. Along with using the right language when suicide is discussed, it’s crucial to check in with those around you regarding how you and they are feeling. And if you are struggling or feel that you’re in need of mental health assistance, resources are available both in-person and online, including Half of Us, The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and the Trans Lifeline, which offers support services through telephone hotlines (call 1-800-273-TALK). The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and Suicide Awareness Voices of Education also offer online resources, and you can also use tools like The National Alliance for Mental Illness helpline and Psychological Association to research databases of potential mental health experts in your area.
If you or someone you know is struggling with their emotional health, head to halfofus.com for ways to get help.