5 Fast Facts on the Rising Trend of Middle-School Suicides

Credit: Pixabay / JohnHain/ Creative Commons

Atlanta, Georgia — Death rates for American middle-school-aged children in the U.S. have surpassed car accident death rates, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released in November 2016.

393bc2a4-ec0d-4923-bcb5-1bbea433b4b5Between 2007 to 2014, the suicide rate doubled for kids between 10 and 14 years of age, reaching 425 reported suicides by 2014, an all-time high. The CDC says that in 2014 there were 384 deaths from automobile crashes for the same age group.

According to Sally Curtin of the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics,

“Most people think there are just a handful of suicides in this age group a year, but the number is perhaps larger than people realize”.

She adds,

“When you compare it to motor vehicle traffic deaths, it gives people a frame of reference, a way to think about it”.

This trend represents a dramatic increase during the past two decades. For example, in 1999, the CDC says, American car crash fatalities for the middle-school age group were over four times higher than suicide fatalities for the same group.

Here’s what you need to know about middle-school suicides in America:

1Experts Blame Social Networking

Many experts feel social media can play a role in teen suicide. Credit: Flickr / Jessica Fless-Hill / Creative Commons

Researchers point to numerous possible causes for the suicide increase. These include increased depression, a growth in the number of young drug users, and bullying. Many experts feel social media plays an important role. One of these experts is Dr. John Draper who is the director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which sponsors crisis centers and a 24-hour hotline for those who are suicidal. Dr. Draper says,

“We certainly know there have been cultural changes, including social media,”

He goes on to say that because of social media,

“there could be more cyberbullying, more public humiliation, things that add up to an increasing sense of despair among youth”.

Clark Flatt, founder of the Tennessee-based Jason Foundation youth suicide prevention group, agrees. He points out,

“When I was in high school, if I was bullied it had to be from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.,”

He added,

“Bullying now can basically go on 24/7. I think that adds tremendous pressure to a young person.”

2Some Suicidal Kids Give Clues, But Some Don’t

Some suicidal kids cry out for help telling friends or trusted adults. But many don’t. One who didn’t was 14-year-old Connor Ball who killed himself in 2011. He had many friends and a close relationship with his brother. He also was an honor student and an athlete, and was on the brink of becoming an Eagle Scout. His death came as a complete shock to his family. His mother, Tara Ball, says, “We thought that everything was good with Connor. We had no idea he was suffering from depression”.

However, a bullied sixth grader, eleven-year-old Bethany Thompson, did tell her friend before she shot herself due to school bullying. The removal of a cancerous brain tumor when she was three had caused nerve damage, leaving her with a “crooked” smile that made her a target for bullies. After a day of particularly painful confrontations with school bullies, Bethany told her best friend that she couldn’t take it any longer and was going to take her own life. By the time the friend’s father contacted Bethany’s mother, it was too late — Bethany was dead.

3The Suicide Rate Is Higher Among Boys

Connor Ball was 14 when he committed suicide. Credit: Ball family

In 2014, the suicide death rate was 2.1 per 100,000, and that year many more boys killed themselves than girls: 150 girls but 275. This reflects the tendency among adults; American men are far more likely to kill themselves than American women. However, the rate of increase tracked by the CDC shows that suicide among girls has risen by 300 percent in recent years, compared to an increase of just 30 percent for boys.

4Girls Are More Vulnerable to Social Media Problems

Middle schooler Bethany Thompson committed suicide after being continually tormented by her bullies. Credit: Wendy Feucht / Paula Thompson

Social media worsens the problems and anxieties that girls must deal with at adolescence, experts say. While growing numbers of kids are reporting struggles with serious depression, researchers say whites in general, especially white girls, are most vulnerable.

Dr. Ramin Mojtabai of John Hopkins University was one of several scientists who published a recent report on depression among children in the journal Pediatrics. “Adolescent girls may have been exposed to a greater degree to depression risk factors in recent years,” according to the researchers.

They elaborate,

“For example, cyberbullying may have increased more dramatically among girls than boys. As compared with adolescent boys, adolescent girls also now use mobile phones with texting applications more frequently and intensively and problematic mobile phone use among young people has been linked to depressed mood.”

5Kids Are More Depressed than Ever Before

Experts believe growing divorce rates among parents and family economic problems may be contributing factors in the increased suicide rates among middle-schoolers. Dr. Ramin Mojtabai and his team of researchers wrote in their article,

“Each year almost 1 in 11 adolescents and young adults have a major depressive episode”

Doctors are not reporting that they are treating increased numbers of kids for depression. This suggests that more and more young people are going without any kind of treatment for their depression, the researchers said. Dr. Anne Glowinski and Giuseppe D’Amelio of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis observe that the problem,

“of ever-increasing untreated youth depression concerns all of us at a time when suicide is now the second leading cause of death for adolescents aged 15 to 19 years”.

They conclude,

“Depression is a sizeable and growing deadly threat to our U.S. adolescent population”

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