Young Suicides Surge, Now More Frequent than Young Traffic Deaths

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For a recent 15-year stretch, one trend line had been moving downward. During that same period, another had been moving upward. The first charts unintentional activity; the second, deliberate action. And since these disturbing graph lines have crossed, the data serves as a strong signal for parents to take notice, particularly for the sake of their young adolescents.

What we're talking about is suicide, and its sharp increase among children aged 10 to 14. Since 1999, the incidence rate for this group has nearly doubled, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and in 2014 it was just as likely that a child took his or her own life than it was that he/she died in a traffic accident. 

That's a shocking statement, because automobile deaths claiming young lives are mostly viewed as terrible, largely unavoidable events -- since those victims, who (hopefully) were at least buckled in, were not contributing to their death with poor decision making behind the wheel. Having suicide, which by definition is intentional, occur just as often elevates this issue to a new, distressing level.

The reasons for the decline in traffic deaths (increased seatbelt use, improved lifesaving technology) is clear, and mostly understandable. Reasons for increased adolescent suicide, however, are far less so. But personality issues involving insecurities, shame and unpopularity among peers play heavily into the mindset and self-worth of 10-to-14-year olds, and social media, because so much information can be revealed to a vast audience instantly, can drastically amplify the anguish.  

The suicide rate for this impressionable age group has nearly doubled since 2007 (and 1999 as well, since it's remained largely flat during that eight-year span) reaching 2.1 deaths per 100,000 in 2014, the last year that data was available. That year, 425 young adolescents took their own lives -- 275 boys, 150 girls. By comparison, 384 kids aged 10-to-14 died in automobile crashes. 

Despite the fact that girls are far more involved than boys in social media platforms like Instagram, Shapchat and Facebook, where pictures are widely exchanged, 65 percent of young adolescent suicide victims in 2014 were boys. For those looking for answers, that fact muddies the waters while reinforcing our inability to know what drives these deadly, heartbreaking decisions. Another factor could be the influence of medication, which that age group has been consuming in greater amounts over the past decade or so. 

At the same time, the nationwide suicide rate for all Americans hit a 30-year high in 2014, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Of the nearly 43,000 fatalities -- or 13 per 100,000 people -- "males take their own lives at nearly four times the rate of females and represent 77.9% of all suicides."