Although I sometimes suspect much of the chatter about our mentally disturbed youth is just fodder for Big Pharma companies that seek to medicate every kid before high school graduation, today's story about new statistics on youth suicide suggests more kids may be suffering from serious emotional problems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicides among children and young adults rose by 8 percent in 2004 -- the largest jump in 15 years. Between 1990 and 2003, the suicide rate among youth ages 10 to 24 had actually fallen by 28.5 percent.
The reason for this depressing leap isn't known. The CDC's Ileana Arias told Reuters that she wasn't sure if this was a one-time occurrence or the beginning of a trend, and the study made no attempts to examine the reasons for the rise in suicides. Still, the results are enough to put new focus on the widespread use of antidepressants for children. As the Food and Drug Administration black-box warnings note, such drugs can "increase the chances of suicidal thoughts and actions in children and teenagers."
Although boys are far more likely than girls to die from suicide -- accounting for 82 percent of all deaths -- girls attempt more suicides than boys. But if girls' "success rates" continue to increase, that may change. In 2004, the suicide rate among girls ages 10 to 14 rose 76 percent compared with 2003 and their deaths by hangings and suffocation more than doubled. Should this be taken as a symptom that American girls are suffering as a whole? It's hard to say, since the actual numbers, though still horrifying, are relatively small: In 2004 94 girls committed suicide, as opposed to 56 in 2003.
Perhaps what's more disturbing are previous CDC surveys that found 17 percent of teenagers claimed to have seriously contemplated suicide, 13 percent reported creating a plan, and 8 percent admitted they had attempted suicide within the year preceding the survey.
As always, these articles invariably end with advice from the experts that parents and teachers need to "recognize the warning signs." As the mother of one seriously moody drama queen who hasn't even embarked on adolescence, this seems easier said than done. Of course, suicidal talk should tip off any responsible adult to problems, but suggestions that parents watch for kids "feeling sad or hopeless about the future," or "changes in eating or sleeping habits," behavior I'm guessing defines many girls' entry into adolescence, seem facile at best. And at worst, we might invent yet another brand of parental paranoia: perpetual suicide watch.