Teen suicides jump 29% during pandemic, report says

Suicides jumped 29% among teens aged 15 to 19 during the pandemic compared to previous years, according to a report released Wednesday.

According to the new edition of US Health Rankings Women’s and Children’s Health Report from the United Health Foundation. Teenage suicides also increased significantly in 10 states. The report captures 121 health metrics based on the most recent public health data available from 30 different sources.

State by state, Nevada, Colorado, and South Carolina had the largest relative increases in teen suicides over the time periods studied:

  • Nevada: 82% increase (from 8.3 to 15.1 per 100,000)
  • Colorado: 67% increase (from 12.9 to 21.5 per 100,000)
  • South Carolina: 55% increase (from 8.7 to 13.5 per 100,000)

During 2018-2020, Alaska had the highest rate of teen suicides, at 40.4 per 100,000; this was about 8 times the suicide rate in Massachusetts, which had the lowest ranking at 5.0.

Rhonda Randall, DO, chief medical officer at UnitedHealthcare Employer and Individual, described the rise in youth suicides as “incredibly disappointing.” However, looking at the hardest-hit subgroups gives insight into opportunities and “calls to action,” she said during an online roundtable on Tuesday.

Suicide rates were nearly five times higher among Native American/Alaska Native teens than black teens (38.9 vs. 8.0 per 100,000) from 2018 to 2020, and teen suicides were 3.2 times higher in men than in women during this period. (Men historically commit suicide at higher rates than women.) Comparing data from 2012-2014 and 2018-2020, suicide rates increased by 28% among women (4.0 to 5.1 per 100,000) and men (12.7 to 16.3 per 100,000) between these two periods. periods.

“There is no doubt that part of this [increase] is tied to the COVID pandemic and the struggle, the anxiety, the depression, the social isolation that youth and young adults have had to…experience,” said Alison Malmon, whose brother s died by suicide in March 2000. Malmon is founder and executive director of Active Minds, which supports mental health awareness and student education.

And youth and young adults haven’t been given “enough credit” for what they’ve been through, Malmon said. “Being away from friends and trying to thrive while not having that social connection and network that so many young people [and] young adults…need,” she said.

At the same time, Malmon noted, the rise in youth mental health issues began before COVID and stemmed from a series of challenges. From climate change to gun violence, they “internalize everything around them, and it becomes part of their overall well-being and health,” she said.

With regard to specific mental health conditions among young people aged 3 to 17, the percentage of anxiety fell from 7.5% in 2017-2018 to 9.2% in 2020-2022, while depression increased from 3.3% to 4.2%. By state, anxiety in this age group was highest in Vermont (16.9%) and lowest in Hawaii (4.6%); depression was highest in Kentucky (7.3%) and lowest in Hawaii (2.4%).

When asked what surprised her the most, Randall pointed to the pervasiveness of anxiety and depression-related tendencies. “It’s increasing across all subpopulations. It’s increasing for all genders,” and for teens of all socioeconomic statuses, she said.

Frequent increase in mental distress in women

The report also captured trends related to women’s health. Nationwide, the share of women reporting “frequent mental distress” increased from 17% in 2017-2018 to 19.4% in 2019-2020, an increase of 14%, or more than 1.2 million women. Frequent mental distress is defined as 14 or more days of poor mental health per month and reflects “persistent and likely severe mental health problems,” according to the report.

Demographically, the largest increases in frequent mental distress over these time periods were seen in Native American/Alaska Native women, where the measure increased from 17.3% to 26.6% , and among university graduates, where it rose from 10.2% to 13.5%.

Mortality also jumped by 21% (from 97.2 to 117.3 deaths per 100,000) among women aged 20 to 44 during the period from 2019 to 2020.

The “interconnectedness” of families really comes through in the report, especially when it comes to women and children, Randall said. The increase in mental distress common among women of childbearing age, many of whom are mothers, has downstream implications for their families, she said. Similarly, children who suffer from depression, anxiety or suicidal tendencies can impact the mental health of their family, as well as that of friends and other members of the community, Randall added.

The report ranked Minnesota as the “healthiest state” overall for women and children, and Louisiana as the “least healthy state,” based on physical environment, behaviors , health outcomes, and social and economic factors of states.

A way forward

In response to rising youth suicide rates, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) changed its policy in 2022 and now recommends universal suicide screening for anyone 12 and older, Arethusa Kirk explained. , MD, Vice President of Clinical Strategy. for United Healthcare Community & State.

The AAP also recommends screening children ages 8 to 11 for suicide when clinically indicated and assessing suicidal thoughts in young children if they have warning signs, Kirk said. “The symptomatology presents really differently for children,” she said. “They may often not have the language to really describe their feelings.”

With some age groups, if you ask them if they’re depressed, they may not understand what it means, Kirk noted. “And they may actually have more somatic symptoms, like headaches or stomachaches, or just mood irritability changes, which can manifest as anger and explosive behavior as they go. it’s really about underlying anxiety and depression.”

Studies have shown that a significant number of people who die by suicide have seen a provider in the weeks or months before their death, she added. But because more than two-thirds of young people struggling with their mental health will tell their friends about it before telling someone else, Malmon stressed the importance of teaching young people how to have conversations with those who could be in crisis.

The VAR model – which stands for validate, assess and refer – is a way to help prevent a crisis. “This basic idea of” I hear you, I believe you. Thank you for sharing with me and how can I help you? “” is something that young adults react to, Malmon said.

  • Shannon Firth has reported on health policy as MedPage Today’s Washington correspondent since 2014. She is also a member of the site’s Enterprise & Investigative Reporting team. Follow

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