Suicide rates rising for young girls

By Nisa Islam Muhammad -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Jul 3, 2019 - 3:04:13 PM

What's your opinion on this article?

Boys used to be far ahead of girls in suicide rates.  According to a new study by Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, girls are closing that gap and younger girls, 10-14, are taking their lives in the greatest numbers.

“We can’t think it’s just a male problem,” explained study author Donna Ruch, a researcher at Nationwide Children’s Center for Suicide Prevention and Research.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suicide has been on the rise in the United States since 1999 with many cases having mental illness, relationship stress, financial troubles and substance abuse as contributing to the trends.

The CDC found that while suicide is still a leading cause of death among teenagers, the researchers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital found a disproportionate increase in the number of suicides by younger girls between the ages of 10 to 14.

The researchers looked at national data on suicides from 1975 to 2016 among children and teens 10 to 19.   They found that although boys were 3.8 times more likely than girls to kill themselves over the 40-year study period, the gap is quickly narrowing.

Starting in 2007, the rates of suicide for girls 10 to 14 increased 12.7 percent per year, compared with 7.1 percent for boys the same age. A similar trend was seen for teens 15 to 19, with rates of suicide going up 7.9 percent for girls and 3.5 percent for boys.

Suicide rates fell during the 1990s, but started to climb in 2007, according to the study published May 17, in JAMA Network Open, a monthly medical journal published by the American Medical Association. Rates increased among both boys and girls, but more so for girls.

Why are young girls killing themselves? Dr. Julie Cerel, a psychologist at the University of Kentucky and former president of the American Association of Suicidology, told NBC News that with suicide it’s never just one cause.

“But at the same time, it’s hard to figure out how each of those areas play into the pain teenagers are feeling.” she said.

The release of the 7th World Happiness Report, in March, found that girls spending five or more hours a day on social media are three times more likely to be depressed than non-users, and heavy internet users (vs. light users) are twice as likely to be unhappy.

“During the same time period that digital media use increased, adolescents began to spend less time interacting with each other in person, including getting together with friends, socializing, and going to parties,” wrote Dr. Jean M. Twenge, professor at San Diego State University and author of Chapter Five in the World Happiness Report, The Sad State of Happiness in the United States and the Role of Digital Media.

The chapter found that digital media activities may also have a direct impact on well-being. This may occur via upward social comparison, in which people feel that their lives are inferior compared to the glamorous “highlight reels” of others’ social media pages; these feelings are linked to depression.

The Nationwide Children’s Hospital researchers called for future work to examine whether there are gender-specific risk factors that have changed in recent years and how these determinants can inform intervention.

“From a public health perspective, in terms of suicide prevention strategies, our findings reiterate the importance of not only addressing developmental needs but also taking gender into account,” said Dr. Ruch. Dr. Bridge emphasized that asking children directly about suicide will not trigger subsequent suicidal thinking or behavior.

“Parents need to be aware of the warning signs of suicide, which include a child making suicidal statements, being unhappy for an extended period, withdrawing from friends or school activities or being increasingly aggressive or irritable,” he said. “If parents observe these warning signs in their child, they should consider taking the child to see a mental health professional.”

—Nisa Islam Muhammad, Staff Writer