Suicide and homicide rates among young people have increased in recent years, ending a period of relative stability, according to a CDC report released Thursday.
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For the report, CDC researchers examined death-certificate data from CDC's National Vital Statistics System to identify the underlying cause of death for U.S. residents ages 10 to 24. The researchers focused on data from 2000 to 2017.
The researchers noted that suicide-related death rates across the entire U.S. population rose roughly 30% from 1999 to 2016, but the increase among youths and young adults ages 10 to 24 has grown at a faster rate than all other age groups—though it still remains low compared with suicide-related death rates among middle-aged and elderly individuals.
The researchers found the prior to 2007, suicide-related death rates among youths and young adults were pretty rare and relatively stable, but after 2007 the suicide-related death rate among that age group spiked, jumping 56% from 6.8 deaths per 100,000 people in 2007 to 10.6 deaths per 100,000 people in 2017. The researchers estimated there were 2,449 more suicides in 2017 than in 2007.
Around 2010, the suicide-related death rate among those ages 10 to 24 surpassed homicide deaths as the second-leading cause of death for the age group. In 2017, the researchers found suicide-related deaths for 10- to 24-year-olds were outpaced only by unintentional injuries, such as car crashes or drug overdoses.
The report also found homicides among 10- to 24-year-olds jumped 18% from 2014 through 2017, after declining by 23% from 2007 to 2014.
Sally Curtin, a statistician at the CDC and an author of the report, said, "The chances of a person in this age range dying by suicide is greater than homicide, when it used to be the reverse." She added, "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."
Lisa Horowitz, a pediatric psychologist at the National Institute of Mental Health, said the findings should serve as "a call to action." She added, "If you had kids suddenly dying at these rates from a new disease or infection, there would be a huge outcry."
Yet, researchers say they are not sure what is driving the jump in suicide and homicide rates among youth and young adults.
While school-related shootings get a lot of media attention, CDC data show they account for less than 2% of all U.S. youth homicide deaths and are unlikely to influence the national trends.
Experts often point to factors such as increasing depression rates, drug use, stress, social media use, bullying, and access to firearms as contributing factors. But Ursula Whiteside, a researcher with the University of Washington, said the truth is researchers are not sure how—or even if—those factors are driving national trends.
"The truth is anyone who says they definitively know what is causing it doesn't know what they're talking about," Whiteside said. "It's a complex problem with no easy answers so far" (Wan, Washington Post, 10/17; Abbott, Wall Street Journal, 10/17).