Teen Suicide Health Crisis

An 18% spike seen in 2003-2004 in the number of teen suicides might reflect an emerging trend, not just a one-time fluke.

New research from The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital concludes that an 18% spike seen in 2003-2004 in the number of teen suicides might reflect an emerging trend, not just a one-time fluke. After estimating the trend in teen suicides from 1996-2003 using log-linear regression to then estimate the expected rates in 2004 and 2005, the research team compared the expected number to the actual number of deaths by suicide. Although overall rates among kids age 10-19 years decreased by about 5% from 2004-2005, rates from both years were significantly greater than expected rates.

"The fact that this significant increase in pediatric suicides continued into 2005 implies that the alarming spike witnessed from 2003-2004 was more than just a single-year anomaly," said Jeff Bridge, PhD, lead author and a principal investigator in The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital. "We now need to consider the possibility that the increase is an indicator of an emerging public health crisis."

Although additional studies are needed to ascertain the possible causes behind the increase in pediatric suicides, several factors should be considered: the influence of Internet social networks, suicide increases among US military troops, and higher rates of untreated depression due to reluctance to prescribe antidepressants following the 2004 FDA requirement to include “black box” warnings on all drugs in the class.

Could if be that the anonymity and thus relaxed atmosphere of social networking sites allows for more discussion of suicide than would be comfortable in a face-to-face situation, in turn planting the idea in teens’ heads and enabling them to consider it more than in a world without the Internet? Is the stress of fighting in a war too much for 18- and 19-year-olds, aside from all the other dangers? What about the 20% drop in the number of kids taking prescription anti-depressants, according to John Campo, MD, Nationwide Children's Hospital? “The vast majority of young people who complete suicide have some sort of psychiatric disorder. Most commonly depression or some mood disorder," said Campo. He added that those who need the medicine most may not be getting it and that although there’s no proven link between the rise in suicides and drop in antidepressant prescriptions filled, the coinciding time of both is worth looking into.

The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital researchers stressed that, whatever the cause, “effective interventions to reduce pediatric suicides must be addressed nationally.”