Suicide among Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults - United States, 1980- 1992

Journal of School Health, September 1995 | Go to article overview
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Suicide among Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults - United States, 1980- 1992

Suicide was the fifth leading cause of years of potential life lost before age 65 in 1990, according to unpublished data collected in 1995 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. During 1980-1992, 67,369 persons age 25 and younger, (children, adolescents, and young adults) committed suicide and, in 1992, persons in this age group accounted for 16.4% of all suicides. From 1952-1992, the incidence of suicide among adolescents and young adults nearly tripled.[1] One national health objective for the year 2000 is to reduce the suicide rate for persons ages 15-19 by more than 25% to 8.2 per 100,000 persons (objective 7.2a).[2] This report summarizes trends in suicide among persons age 25 and younger from 1980-1992, the latest year for which complete data are available.

Trends in suicide among young persons were determined using final mortality data from the CDC's underlying cause of death files.[3] Suicides and methods of fatal injury were determined by using codes from International Classification of Diseases, ninth revision. Suicide rates were calculated using population data from the 1980 and 1990 census enumerations and intercensal year estimates compiled by the U.S. Bureau of the Census.

From 1980-1992, the number and rate of suicides declined among persons younger than age 25 from 5,381 (5.7 per 100,000 persons) to 5,007 (5.4). For persons ages 20-24, the suicide rate declined 7.2% (from 16.1 to 14.9). In comparison, the rate increased among persons ages 15-19 by 28.3% (from 8.5 to 10.9) and among persons ages 10-14 by 120% (from 0.8 to 1.7). For persons ages 20-24, suicide rates declined for all racial and sex groups except Black males (Table 1). Because data for racial groups other than Black and White were too small for separate analysis, data for these groups were combined. Data on ethnicity were not analyzed because they were not available for the entire study period.


For persons ages 15-19, the suicide rate increased for all groups except males of other races; in particular, for Black males the rate increased 165.3% For persons ages 10-14, suicide rates increased substantially in all racial and sex groups.

In 1992, firearm-related deaths accounted for 64.9% of suicides among persons younger than age 25. Among persons ages 15-19, firearm-related suicides accounted for 81% of the increase in the overall rate from 1980-1992. During 1980-1992, among persons age 25 and younger, the proportions of suicides by poisoning, cutting, and other methods declined, while the proportions by firearms and hanging increased; hanging was the second most common method of suicide, followed by poisoning.

Editorial Note: Findings in this report are consistent with previous reports indicating the risk for suicide is greatest among young White males.[4] However, from 1980-1992, suicide rates increased most rapidly among young Black males. Although suicide among children is a rare event, the dramatic increase in the suicide rate among persons ages 10-14 underscores the urgent need for intensifying efforts to prevent suicide among persons in this age group.

The causes of suicide are multiple and complex. Potential reasons for the increase in suicides among some groups may reflect increasing interaction of risk factors including substance abuse; mental illness; impulsive, aggressive, and antisocial behavior; family influences, including a history of violence and family disruption; severe stress in school or social life; and rapid sociocultural change.[5] The increase in firearm-related suicide probably reflects increased access to firearms by the at-risk population.[6]

Most youth suicide-prevention programs are directed toward older adolescents and do not include outreach efforts for minorities.

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