High Youth Suicide Rates Can Be Reduced With Mental Health Care

Trend graph of U.S. and California youth suicide rates from 1999-2001 to 2018-2020.

Tragically, 527 California young people ages 5 to 24 took their own lives in 2020, devastating family and friends. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people ages 15 to 24 statewide and nationally, behind only unintentional injuries and homicide.

In the decade between 2009 and 2019, youth suicides increased dramatically—three-year rates jumped more than 27% for California youth ages 15 to 24 and more than 44% for youth nationwide. In 2018-2020, however—for the first time since 2007-2009—neither the California nor U.S. rate increased. In California, this change in trend was driven by a drop in suicides among young adults ages 20 to 24.

These flattening trends may be a promising sign of future decline, but it is too soon to know. At the same time, suicides among children ages 5 to 14 are trending in the wrong direction: In California, the number of suicides in this age group doubled between 2019 and 2020, from 27 to 54.

How can we reach a young person before a suicide occurs?

Suicides can be prevented with timely, high-quality mental health care, but many children and youth are not receiving needed treatment that could prevent emotional health issues from escalating to the level of self-harm or suicide.

Nurturing, stable relationships and environments also can help prevent and mitigate youth emotional health problems.

Accessing Mental Health Care Is a Critical Part of the Problem

More than one in nine California children ages 3 to 17 had anxiety, depression, conduct problems, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to 2016-2020 estimates. Among these children, only about half (52%) received mental health treatment or counseling in the previous year—a figure similar to the national estimate. Most youth of color who need mental health services do not receive them, pointing to serious inequities in access to care, as research has shown.

Some youth and families with mental or behavioral health challenges choose not to seek treatment, but many who do face barriers to access such as difficulty finding available providers or specialists, cost, health insurance limitations, challenges with quality of care (for instance, lack of linguistic or cultural competence), and transportation.

To prevent youth suicides, it is critical that all young people and their families have access to high-quality, affordable, professional help for anxiety, depression, self-harm, suicidal ideation, substance misuse, and other emotional and behavioral health issues.

Which Youth Are Most at Risk of Suicide?

Some populations are at higher risk of committing suicide:

  • Boys and young men are far more likely to die by suicide than their female counterparts. In 2020, males accounted for 75% of suicides among California youth ages 15 to 24, and 80% of youth suicides nationwide.
  • Among those ages 15 to 24, a majority of suicides occur among young adults ages 20 to 24, who accounted for 63% of youth suicides in 2020, statewide and nationally.
  • Nationally, American Indian/Alaska Native youth have the highest suicide rates by far, compared with their peers in other racial/ethnic groups.
  • Additional groups at high risk for suicide include LGBTQ youth and those who are unhoused, in the child welfare or justice systems, bereaved by suicide, and experiencing mental illness, disabilities, or substance use disorders.

What Will It Take to Reverse Youth Suicide Trends?

For many years now, mental health professionals, advocates, and other leaders have been calling attention to the youth mental health crisis, and while the recent leveling off in state and U.S. youth suicide rates is certainly hopeful, young people are continuing to suffer and take their own lives at distressingly high rates. As those who’ve been working in this field know, we can and must collaborate across sectors to give these issues higher priority, provide long-term commitments with adequate funding, set effective policies, and focus on equity.

Here are some steps that can be taken now:

  • If you or someone you know needs help urgently, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
  • Help reduce the stigma associated with mental illness, encourage help-seeking, and promote education about warning signs and how to respond to people in need.
  • Support schools in their efforts to create positive school climates, teach social-emotional skills, offer school-based mental health services, and implement effective suicide prevention policies.
  • Support community efforts to provide youth with connections to caring adults and access to safe, positive activities, such as quality mentoring and after-school programs.
  • Empower youth as partners in local, state, and national mental health initiatives.
  • Support training for anyone who works directly with youth to recognize the signs of suicidal behavior, respond effectively, and help connect youth with appropriate resources.
  • Help expand the workforce of qualified mental health professionals, especially in underserved communities.
  • Help build a system in which all youth and families have access to a range of support services and high-quality, affordable mental health care with adequate insurance coverage.
  • Advocate for health care systems change to support youth mental health and suicide prevention.
  • Promote strategies to reduce access to lethal means such as firearms. In 2020, more than half (52%) of U.S. youth suicides were by firearm.

Read more about strategies to prevent youth suicide and promote positive mental health, and access related resources.

KidsData in the News

KidsData Acting Director Beth Jarosz is cited in India Post, K News Atlanta, El Observador, Người Việt, Península 360 Press, and World Journal articles discussing national and state-level trends in youth suicide and prevalence of childhood behavioral and mental health conditions.

Monterey County: Ballot Initiative Aims to Improve Child Care, Preschool Services

A Monterey Herald story on the Safe, Affordable Quality Child Care Act—a ballot initiative that would provide more than $55 million in funding over 10 years to support local child care and preschool programs in Monterey County—cited KidsData on child population and licensed child care spaces.

Children’s Health Resource

More Sleep Could Improve Many U.S. Teenagers’ Mental Health

California now requires most high schools to start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. to support students’ well-being and safety. A new research highlight from PRB explains why that’s important.


Recently Released Data

We recently released data about demographics and youth suicide and self-inflicted injury.

See links to the latest here.

Posted by kidsdata.org

This entry was posted on Tuesday, July 26th, 2022 at 9:56 am. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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