Teen Suicide: A Difficult but Important Conversation

NSPL_LogoTeen deaths are not easy to talk about, especially violent and unexpected deaths. But in order to stop preventable teen deaths, we need to examine and understand the data. For a long time, accidents, homicides and suicides have been the leading causes of teen deaths in the United States, in that particular order. A different picture emerges when you break out the data by race and ethnicity, though. In 2014, 7 percent of the deaths of non-Hispanic Blacks ages 15-19 were due to suicide, while 42 percent of deaths were due to homicide. Contrast that with non-Hispanic Whites ages 15-19, for whom homicides accounted for only 3 percent of deaths, but suicide accounted for 25 percent.

New research shows that the national trend for teens overall has recently changed, with suicide now replacing homicide as the second-leading cause of death for 15-19 year-olds. Interestingly, the researchers found that the higher teen suicide rate was not due to more suicide attempts (which has remained flat), but by teens using more lethal methods in their attempts (such as suffocation). Lastly, they found that while male teens are still much more likely to die from suicide than female teens, the rise in the overall teen suicide rate is due to the rising rate for females.

When I read this report I immediately wondered if Kentucky data mirrored these nationwide findings. CDC data shows that in Kentucky, suicide has already been the second-leading cause of death for teens going back to at least 1999 (see chart below). The bad news/good news is that while the national teen suicide rate has increased slightly from 1999 to 2004, Kentucky’s rate has decreased, from 8.2 per 100,000 in 1999 to 7.4 per 100,000 in 2014. Kentucky has also not experienced a notable rise in female teen suicides, with males constituting 83 percent of teen suicides in 1999 and 86 percent in 2014.

teen suicide graph

Data can be used to inform outreach and prevention efforts, and Kentucky’s data show non-Hispanic White males make up the vast majority of teen suicides. Knowing the risk factors for teen suicide can also help target outreach and education, though the presence of a risk factor does not predict a suicide attempt.

Parents can help prevent youth suicide by talking openly and calmly with their kids about what they are experiencing and how they feel; knowing the warning signs; and not being afraid to ask their child if they’re thinking of attempting suicide. Louisville parents can attend a suicide prevention training hosted by JCPS on August 2nd from 6:30-7:30 p.m. at the Board of Education at 3332 Newburg Rd.

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