Suicide rates among young girls are surging in the US and catching up to the number of boys that take their own lives, new research finds.
Men and boys have always been at greater risk of dying by suicide – although attempts are more common among girls and women – but that gap is closing.
Since 2007, the suicide rate among girls has increased at nearly twice the rate that boys’ suicides have.
And girls are choosing more violent means, like hanging and choking, to take their own lives than they have in the past, a worrisome departure, according to Nationwide Children’s Hospital researchers.
Suicide rates remain higher among both young (top) and teenage (bottom) boys, shown in blue, but the number or girls, shown in yellow, taking their own lives is increasing at a faster rate, closing the gender gap, especially among 10- to 14-year-olds
Young people in America are suffering more and more mental illnesses and taking their own lives at alarming rates.
From the 1970s through the 1990s, youth and teen suicide rates were in decline.
But that trend turned around in 2007.
Since then, marked increases in youth and teen suicides have plagued both boys and girls as rates of depression and anxiety have had similar spikes in the US.
And suicide among girls has only become a greater focus of the public eye since the period described by the study data, as the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why sparked a national conversation about teen mental health.
Between 1975 and 2016, 68,085 boys and 16,966 girls between 10 and 19 took their own lives.
Rates of suicide among youth, aged 10-14, crept slowly upward through the early 1990s, then declined until 2007.
Since then, the largest increases in suicides have been among these younger children.
Suicide deaths for girls increased by 12.7 annually after 20007, while boys’s suicides increased by just 7.1 percent year-over-year.
Between 1975 and 1991, boys and girls died by suicide at a 3.14-to-one ratio.
From 2007 to 206, that gap narrowed to 1.8 to one.
Historically, girls and women in the US have had higher rates of suicide attempts, but boys and men have been more likely to die by suicide.
Primarily, this is due to the means by which each sex tends to choose to end their own lives.
Men and boys typically choose more violent means, shooting or hanging themselves.
Women and girls, on the other hand, have historically been most likely to poison themselves, a statistically less lethal method of suicide.
But that, too, is changing.
The gap in firearm use among boys and girls continues to grow, but the difference in rates of hanging or suffocation is disappearing among both 10- to 14-year-olds and 15 to 19-year-olds.
‘It is troubling that a growing proportion of female youth are choosing this more violent and lethal method, as it is well documented female individuals have higher rates of attempted suicide,’ the study authors wrote.
‘Most youth suicide decedents actually die on their first attempt, with the likelihood of death on first attempt being associated with lethality of method.
‘Consequently, a sustained shift toward a highly lethal method such as hanging or suffocation by female youth could have grave public health implications and drive elevations in the rates of suicide.’
Already, making sure that children – and adults alike – don’t have access to lethal means like guns is a top priority in suicide prevention.
But the study’s findings underscore that even people – namely young girls – who may seem historically unlikely to take their own lives in a violent way are increasingly doing so, and need to be protected from weapons and tools that could aid their suicides.