June 27, 2019
A new study by Harvard Medical School reveals that the suicide rate among young people in the U.S. has spiked in recent years and has experts worried.
The study, recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found an abnormal increase in suicide rates for males between the ages of 15 and 19 years old. From 2000 to 2017, the suicide rate rose by 47 percent among teens age 15 to 19 and 36 percent among those 20 to 24. That’s well above the 30 percent increase seen across all age groups.
Oren Miron, a research associate with Harvard Medical School’s Department of Biomedical Informatics and the primary researcher for this study discussed the key findings with the Prevention Podcast.
Miron’s passion for understanding the trends and causes of suicide to better improve suicide prevention stems from an unfortunate personal experience he had at a young age. A friend of Miron’s, who was bullied in high school, tragically took his own life. Since then, Miron has worked to better understand trends and societal influences on suicide, and what we as a society can do to improve suicide prevention.
The new Harvard study analyzed suicide data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for males and females between the ages of 15 to 19 and 20 to 24. Unfortunately the study determined that suicide rates for males and females as well as both age groups increased during the time period examined. However, the most significant and unexpected increase was seen in males between the ages of 15 to 19.
In this initial study, Miron and his team did not examine any factors that may be causing the increases in suicide rates for young adults and adolecents. They first wanted to understand what the CDC data says in terms of trends in suicides by age group and gender. However, further analyzing what may be contributing to these increases is the next round of research that Miron hopes to look at.
Two factors that will be researched specifically are the opioid crisis and social media. It is known that opioid abuse increases the risk of suicide in addicts. However, Miron said recent studies suggest it may also increase the risk of suicide in the children of addicts. “In the last three to four years, we thought it might track similarly with the surge we see in young male suicides,” he said. The potential relationship between opioids and suicide, specifically young male suicides, will be researched in greater detail in the future.
The second factor that Miron hypothesizes as a potential cause of the increase in young male suicide rates is social media. “We do see an increase in usage [of social media] and especially in the younger ages,” Miron said. “We see them using newer apps that give them more anonymity such as Snapchat, which basically makes it harder for parents to understand what the kid is doing.”
Young adults and adolescents are using social media sites and mobile applications to connect with others via pictures, videos, and chat features. However, this also opens the door for them to be exposed to cyber bullies and negative information without parental or guardian awareness. Additional research and analytics will be done in the future to better understand the potential relationship between social media and suicide rates, Miron said.
Continuing to research and study potential causes, including opioids and social media, and the increases in suicide rates based on age group and gender will be key to improving prevention tactics. Miron said he strongly believes in the ability for people to observe early warning indicators of suicidal behavior and the important role a bystander can play in reporting signs and preventing suicidal acts. However, he admits that it is getting harder to detect due to social media and the digital space. Miron emphasizes that, “we really want to warn parents, counselors, and teachers to be mindful of the higher risks that kids are in right now and that they might get even [fewer] signs than they did before.”
At LiveSafe, we know that prevention is possible. Observing and reporting early warning indicators of suicidal behavior for all ages is critical to reversing the trend of increasing suicide rates. LiveSafe, the leading risk intelligence communication platform, can make a difference in the efforts to decrease suicide rates and improve suicide prevention. With LiveSafe, users can report early warning indicators to emergency or non-emergency security points of contact through a secure mobile connection. They can also submit observations or incidents anonymously. LiveSafe can help your organization and community stop reacting to suicides and start preventing them.