Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Stemming the Rising Tide of Suicide

Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Stemming the Rising Tide of Suicide

Article excerpt

What is causing the alarming increase in suicides in the United States, and what can psychiatrists do to help?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that the suicide rate in 2014 was 13/100,000, a 24% increase from the 1999 rate of 10.5/100,000. Every age group from 10 to 74 had an increase in suicides; people over age 75 had a decrease. The suicide rate increased by 1% yearly from 1999 through 2006 and then by 2% per year from 2006 through 2014.

It's hard to find a single explanation for the increased suicide rates, since so many events have rocked our country since 1999. You could talk about 9/11 and the wars that followed, you could mention the Great Recession of 2007-2009 and its anemic recovery, and you could note the growing disparity between the rich and the poor as placing immeasurable stress on this country.

The economy and war do not explain the most startling statistic: The suicide rate for girls aged 10-14 tripled from 1999 to 2014.1 can only speculate on the cause of this rise, but I believe social media play a role. Facebook was launched in 2004, and there are now dozens of social media sites that adolescent girls use, despite age restrictions. The bullying and sexual harassment that have always been part of the adolescent years now can be amplified when a message or post goes viral. Cyberbullying has been linked to some high-profile adolescent suicides. While researching this topic, I learned about a book, 'American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers" (New York: Knopf, 2016) by Nancy Jo Sales, which highlights the harm of unmonitored social media use on girls' psyches.

While women had a larger increase than men in suicide rates, men's rates continue to exceed women's rates. The ratio of male to female suicides was 3.6 in 2014, a decrease from a rate of 4.5 in 1999.

Most psychiatrists may not be surprised to learn that suicide rates have steadily risen from 1999 to 2014. In my own work as a university counseling center psychiatrist, I see a student population with increased rates of anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Suicide is now the second-leading cause of death for people aged 15-24. …

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