Adolescence has always been a risky time, but the latest CDC survey shows teen suicide rates, suicide attempts, and suicidal ideation are on the rise.
The CDC survey, a nationally representative sample of high school students, which is released every two years, was meaningful. “Data from 2019 reflect substantial differences by demographics regarding suicidal ideation and behaviors,” the survey’s authors concluded.
Brandon Stratford, Director of Education Research at Child Trends, points out that suicide is the second most frequent cause of death among teens (accidents are the first). Looking at the survey, he found that overall, “one in six of them reported having thought about suicide and 12 months prior to taking the survey. And then, one in six had actually made a plan, and then about one in 10 reported having actually attempted suicide in the past year.”
Risks Increase Based on Race, Gender, and LGBTQ+
The overall stats seem grim enough, but the risks increase in certain demographics.
“The other thing that people find particularly shocking is those numbers for our LGBTQ youth are much higher. About half of LGBTQ youth reported having thought about suicide in the past year. And about 40 percent said they’ve made a plan on how to do it,” Stratford said.
The survey data also indicated that suicide risk increased for black youth, especially boys. The reason?
“You know, these youth are experiencing racism or homophobia. And so the discrimination that they’re feeling can compound any other kind of underlying worries or just triggers for suicide that might already be there,” Stratford observed.
COVID Risk Factors
Throw a pandemic into the throes of adolescence and you have a recipe for anxiety, stress, and possible suicide risk.
According to a study from the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP), there are now children and adolescents with higher rates of depression and anxiety resulting from the required isolation and loneliness of COVID-19.
Another survey, released by ParentsTogether, found that the majority of kids surveyed (70%) reported feeling sad, overwhelmed and worried. Nearly half the parents (44%) are saying that their kids are struggling with mental wellness since the pandemic started.
Dashed expectations and quick pivots in routine are upsetting for anyone, and teens are no exception. Stratford poses the scenario where kids were told they needed to stay home, not see their friends or teachers, but that “you’ll be able to see them again in the fall. So, don’t worry. And now the fall isn’t as anybody expected either,” Stratford explains.
Stratford expounds on that same situation being even more challenging for gay teens.
“For LGBTQ youth, school can often be one of the places where they have a positive connection with an adult or they’re part of a student group that gives them support. So the fact that they’re being separated physically from a lot of those supports can also increase the stress and anxiety that those youth particularly are feeling at this time, and particularly for youth who are in families that are not supportive of their identities. You know, now they’re at home all the time, so it can really increase stress for them.”
How to Support Your Teen
Keeping communication open is key. Take the time to acknowledge that things aren’t “normal.” Make sure to express that you are there for what Stratford calls “the tough things.”
“I think that’s a key thing to let people know is that there is help. And if you’re going through something difficult, we can work on getting you help. But it’s really hard to do anything when nobody else knows what you’re going through. So particularly as a family member, making sure they know, ‘I am one of those people who is absolutely going to want to hear about it,’” Stratford said.