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:
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:
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.
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.
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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.
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