Suicide and Self Harm

Teen Suicide and Self Harm


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide (i.e., taking one’s own life) is a serious public health issue that affects everyone, even young people. For youth between the ages of 10 and 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death. It results in approximately 4600 lives lost each year. The top three methods used in suicides of young people include firearm (45%), suffocation (40%), and poisoning (8%).

Deaths from youth suicide are only part of the problem. More young people survive suicide attempts than actually die. A nationwide survey of youth in grades 9–12 in public and private schools in the United States (U.S.) found that 16% of students reported seriously considering suicide, 13% reported creating a plan, and 8% reporting trying to take their own life in the 12 months preceding the survey. Each year, approximately 157,000 youth between the ages of 10 and 24 receive medical care for self-inflicted injuries at Emergency Departments across the U.S.

Suicide affects all youth, but some groups are at higher risk than others. Boys are more likely than girls to die from suicide. Of the reported suicides in the 10 to 24 age group, 81% of the deaths were males and 19% were females. Girls, however, are more likely to report attempting suicide than boys. Cultural variations in suicide rates also exist, with Native American/Alaskan Native youth having the highest rates of suicide-related fatalities. A nationwide survey of youth in grades 9–12 in public and private schools in the U.S. found Hispanic youth were more likely to report attempting suicide than their black and white, non-Hispanic peers.

Several factors can put a young person at risk for suicide. However, having these risk factors does not always mean that suicide will occur.

Risk factors:
  • History of previous suicide attempts
  • Family history of suicide
  • History of depression or other mental illness
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Stressful life event or loss
  • Easy access to lethal methods
  • Exposure to the suicidal behavior of others
  • Incarceration

Most people are uncomfortable with the topic of suicide. Too often, victims are blamed, and their families and friends are left stigmatized. As a result, people do not communicate openly about suicide. Thus an important public health problem is left shrouded in secrecy, which limits the amount of information available to those working to prevent suicide.

The good news is that research over the last several decades has uncovered a wealth of information on the causes of suicide and on prevention strategies. Additionally, CDC is working to monitor the problem and develop programs to prevent youth suicide.

Information and Tips for parents from Dr. Gene Beresin, SADD’s Sr. Advisor of Adolescent Psychiatry

 Self Harm or Self Injury

Nearly 1 in 12 teens deliberately hurt themselves. Self-injury, also known as self-harm or self-mutilation, is defined as an act wherein someone deliberately hurts or injures themselves. Self-injury is most often used as a coping mechanism and is not an attempt at suicide.

  • Self-harm is common, reported by about 8 percent of 14- to 19-year-olds.
  • At every stage, more girls reported self-harm than boys.
  • Those who cut, burned or otherwise deliberately hurt themselves were more likely to be seriously depressed or anxious, and to report smoking, drinking or abusing drugs. Similarly, a small subgroup of students who began hurting themselves as young adults were more likely to report having been depressed or anxious as teenagers.
  • The proportion of young men and women reporting self-harm substantially declined as they aged.

Teenage self-harmers often have “serious emotional difficulties” and need help and support, lest they suffer persistent problems later in life, therefore, adults “living and working with young people” need to be able to spot the signs of “persistent distress.”  says Dr. Paul Moran.

What We Are Doing About It:  SADD chapters have access to experts, information, tools and campaigns that address a growing range of issues teens are struggling with today. As we hear from teens on the emerging issues, we strive to provide the best tools and support to educate and empower our teens to take the leadership position in their schools and communities and address these issues head on.

For more information about youth personal health and safety or to make a contribution feel free to contact us.