Key facts about teen suicide

  • The percentage of high school students who reported thinking seriously about attempting suicide in the past year is on the rise, after falling substantially during the 1990s and 2000s, reaching almost one-fifth of students in 2015 (18 percent).
  • As of 2015, the proportion of female high school students who reported attempting, or thinking seriously about attempting, suicide in the past year was larger than for male students.
  • Also in 2015, a higher percentage of Hispanic high school students reported attempting suicide in the past year than either black or white students.

Why teen suicide matters

Suicide was the second-leading cause of death among teenagers ages 15 to 19 in 2014.[1] Considering or attempting suicide is often indicative of serious mental health problems, and may signal other traumatic life events such as physical or sexual abuse. Youth are much more likely to think about and attempt suicide if they are depressed.[2] Other risk factors for suicide include co-occurring substance or alcohol abuse and mental disorders; a family history of suicide; physical illness; relational, social, work, or financial loss; and easy access to lethal methods, especially guns.[3] Finally, youth who have experienced stressful life events, who have poor levels of communication with their parents, and who have been exposed to the suicidal behaviors of others are more likely to commit suicide.[4]

Analysis and figures based on most recently available data. Data last updated: December 2016 

Trends

The percentage of high school students who reported thinking seriously about committing suicide in the last year declined from 29 percent in 1991 to 14 percent in 2009. However, the percentage has since increased, reaching 18 percent in 2015. The proportion of students who reported having attempted suicide remained relatively constant in the 1990s and early 2000s (between 7 and 9 percent), but declined between 2005 and 2009, from 8 to 6 percent. This trend reversed in 2011, increasing to 8 percent; by 2015, the figure had increased again to 9 percent. A much smaller proportion—2 to 3 percent of high school students—reported requiring medical attention as a result of a suicide attempt. This proportion remained constant between 1991 and 2009. However, the proportion increased significantly between 2009 and 2013, from 1.9 to 2.8 percent.

Differences by race and Hispanic origin[6]

In 2015, Hispanic females were more likely to seriously consider suicide than their white or black peers (26 percent, versus 23 and 19 percent, respectively), more likely to report attempting suicide (15 percent, versus 10 percent, each), and more likely to require medical attention for a suicide attempt (5 percent, versus 3 and 4 percent, respectively). (Figure 3) Among males, whites were less likely than blacks and Hispanics to attempt suicide (4 percent, versus 7 and 8 percent, respectively) and less likely to require medical attention for a suicide attempt (1 percent, versus 4 and 3 percent, respectively). (Appendices 2 and 3)

Differences by gender

Females are much more likely than males to report seriously considering suicide (23 and 12 percent, respectively, in 2015), attempting suicide (12 and 6 percent, respectively), and requiring medical attention (4 and 2 percent, respectively). However, males are far more likely to succeed in committing suicide.[5]

Differences by grade

In 2015, twelfth-grade girls were less likely than ninth-grade girls to seriously consider or attempt suicide (19 versus 27 percent). Additionally, ninth-grade girls were more than twice as likely as their twelfth-grade counterparts to attempt suicide (15 versus 7 percent) and to require medical treatment as a result of suicide attempts (5 versus 2 percent).

State and local estimates

2015 estimates of suicidal thoughts and attempts among high school students (grades 9 to 12) are available for select states and cities from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS)  (Tables 26 and 28).

 

National policy solutions

The Healthy People 2020 program has set a goal to reduce the proportion of adolescents who report requiring medical attention for an attempted suicide, from 1.9 percent in 2009 to 1.7 percent in 2020. Additional information is available here. (Goal MHMD-2)

Background

Definition

Students were asked the following questions:

“During the past 12 months, did you ever seriously consider attempting suicide?”

“During the past 12 months, how many times did you actually attempt suicide?”

“If you attempted suicide during the past 12 months, did any attempt result in an injury, poisoning, or overdose that had to be treated by a doctor or nurse?”

Students from Oregon, Washington, and Minnesota were not included in the survey in any year. Students from California were included in the survey only in 2015. Additionally, students from Indiana and Pennsylvania were not included in the 2013 survey, and students from Utah, Kansas, Texas, New Jersey, Iowa, Wisconsin, Louisiana, Ohio, and Georgia were not included in the 2015 survey. Students from Colorado and Iowa were not included in the 2013 or 2015 surveys.

Endnotes

[1]Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) [Online]. (2014). National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (producer). Available from: www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/fatal.html

[2]U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Mental
health: A report of the Surgeon General.Available at: http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/mentalhealth/chapter3/sec5.html

[3]Shaffer, D., & Craft, L., (1999). Methods of
adolescent suicide prevention. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 60(Suppl. 2), 70-74.

[4]National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center. Teen
Suicide.http://www.counseling.org/Resources/Library/Selected%20Topics/Suicide/suicide_fact_sheet.pdf

[5]Child Trends Databank. (2014) Teen Homicide, Suicide, and Firearm Deaths. Available at: https://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=teen-homicide-suicide-and-firearm-deaths. Original data from the National Vital Statistics System.

[6]Hispanics may be any race. Estimates for whites and blacks in this report do not include Hispanics.

Suggested Citation:

Child Trends Databank. (2016). Suicidal teens. Available at: https://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=suicidal-teens