Suicide Among Youth Populations

As of 2015, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among youth aged 10 to 24 which represents approximately 4,600 deaths per year.  Unfortunately, this has been true in Anne Arundel County for several years, ahead of the national trend. Perhaps more disturbing though is the amount of ideation and attempts seen among this population. It is estimated that for every one completion, between 25 and 45 additional attempts are made. According to the 2013 Youth Risk BehaviorSurveillance System (YRBSS) Report (a nationwide survey of youth in grades 9–12 in public and private schools in the US) found that 17% of students reported seriously considering suicide and 8% reporting trying to take their own life in the 12 months preceding the survey.  Additionally, 29.9% of youth surveyed said that they felt so sad or hopeless for at least two weeks during the 12 months preceding the survey that they stopped doing some usual activities.

A couple of other important facts of note:

  • Nearly 157,000 youth receive treatment at emergency rooms nation-wide for self-inflicted injury.
  • Boys are more likely to complete an act of suicide than girls; however, girls are more likely to make an attempt.
  • According to the 2013 YRBSS, Hispanic youth were more likely to report attempting suicide than their black and white, non-Hispanic peers.
  • The three most common methods used in suicides of young people include firearm (45%), suffocation (40%), and poisoning (8%).

For more information visit the CDC’s page on Youth Suicide. To learn more about youth suicide in Anne Arundel County, take a look at the county-specific pages of the YRBSS for High School Students and for Middle School Students, and check out Youth Suicide: An Assessment of Youth Suicide Behavior in Anne Arundel County from 2008 - 2012 published by the Anne Arundel County Department of Health.

Suicide Contagion

Suicide among youth populations can often present some unique challenges not seen in other settings, particularly the concept of “suicide contagion” or a “suicide cluster”. In the aftermath of a highly visible suicide death, youth affected by the loss – both directly and indirectly – may feel inclined to emulate the suicide death in the absence of protective factors. Traditional media and social media can both play a role in the heightened emotions and visibility of a suicide death that may be a triggering event. 

For example, a celebrity suicide death that is glorified or sensationalized in the media can often trigger contagion among fans and followers of that celebrity, as well as less-connected individuals experiencing ideation at the time of the death.  But more importantly, in a local setting, the suicide death of a popular or highly-visible student (or an adult that works closely with youth) can trigger “copycat” events in their home school and community, as well as in neighborhoods in the surrounding area.  Suicide bereavement has some unique characteristics including increased risk for suicide and suicidal ideation. The often sudden, and sometimes seemingly unexpected nature, of a suicide death can cause feelings of intense sadness, confusion and even anger. These factors often leave individuals grieving a suicide death at risk for an attempt or completion of their own.  This can be particularly true for adolescents and teens who are already struggling with a myriad of social and emotional issues and often lack the coping mechanisms and long-term protective factors that would lower their risk.

For more on suicide contagion among youth, see this 2013 article from CNN Health.

How Do I Help a Youth at Risk?

If you are concerned that a young person you know is at risk for suicide DON’T WAIT – INTERVENE! You can call or chat with any number of local and national hotlines or organizations, many of which can be found on our home page. When in doubt, don’t be afraid to call 911! It is better to act and have been wrong, then to have stayed silent and be right – and potentially too late. Visit our Risk Factors and Indicators page for more information and consider taking part in a gatekeeper training for suicide prevention so that you can be better prepared to make a positive intervention. Also take a look at our recent article "Building Resilience in Youth is Key to Suicide Prevention" to learn more about how to give our youth a foundation of strength to help them cope during difficult times. 

Even if your children are not actively at risk, one of the best ways to prevent suicide among teens is by talking about the issue. Providing good information, removing the stigma, and letting your children know that they can talk to you about their feelings and/or their concerns about their friends can be among the easiest and best ways to help ensure their safety. 

So How Do I Talk to My Kids About Suicide?

Suicide is a very difficult, very emotional issue that is often hard for us to talk about in any setting, even with other adults. However, talking about suicide and providing good information to youth is a key method for good suicide prevention.  Often this conversation will happen for the first time in the aftermath of a suicide death – sometimes of a friend or peer, a family member, a neighbor, a loved one, or even just someone visible in the community. Like many difficult discussions, how you answer questions and frame the issue will largely depend on the age of your child.

Download our free one-page guide to "Talking to Your Child About Suicide" which provides tips and guidelines for this important (but often challenging) conversation. The following sites, articles and materials are trusted sources and also offer additional guidance and insights:

While having this difficult conversation after a suicide loss is important, don’t feel like you need to wait for the worst to occur before talking to your kids. The best time to have this discussion is NOW - before a crisis, before a loss, before they are at risk.
Youth Suicide Awareness Action Team,
Sep 1, 2015, 12:34 PM
Youth Suicide Awareness Action Team,
Sep 2, 2015, 12:04 PM