Female youth aged 10 to 19 years had a significant and disproportionate increase in suicides between 1975 and 2005 compared with males in the same age group, according to a study published in JAMA Network Open. Researchers said that the findings show that the historically large gap between male and female youth suicides is narrowing.
Donna A. Ruch, PhD, a post-doctoral scientist at the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, and colleagues wrote that previous research has shown increasing suicide rates among young females.
“Although informative, these reports do not address the extent to which the disproportionate increase in suicide rates among female youth is contributing to a narrowing gap between male and female youth suicide rates,” they wrote. “Understanding disparities in youth suicide rates is crucial for developing targeted prevention strategies.”
Ruch and colleagues conducted a cross-sectional study to investigate trends in U.S. suicides among youth occurring between Jan. 1, 1975, and Dec. 31, 2016. During the study period, 85,051 suicides were reported for those aged 10 to 19 years. Most of these suicides —80.1% — were completed by males, whereas 19.9% were completed by females (male-to-female incidence rate ratio [IRR] = 3.82; 95% CI, 3.35-4.35).
The researchers observed a decrease in suicides among females until 2007. Then, suicide rates among females had the largest significant percentage increase compared with males (12.7% vs. 7.1% for ages 10 to 14 years; 7.9% vs. 3.9% ages 15 to 19 years).
The male-to-female IRR of suicide rates among youth decreased across the study period for those aged 10 to 14 years — from 3.14 (95%, CI, 2.74-3.61) to 1.8 (95% CI, 1.53-2.12) — and those aged 15 to 19 years — from 4.15 (95% CI, 3.79-4.54) to 3.31 (95% CI, 2.96-3.69). Ruch and colleagues observed that the most significant narrowing of the gap between male and female suicides were observed among non-Hispanic white youth aged 10 to 14 years and non-Hispanic youth of other races aged 15 to 19 years.
When the researchers analyzed causes of death, the use of firearms significantly increased among youth aged 15 to 19 years, and the male-to-female IRR for suicide by hanging or suffocation decreased among all age groups (P < .001). The male-to-female IRR for poisonings did not significantly change during the study period.
“There has been speculation and some empirical data to suggest that the rise of social media use in youth is one factor that may be associated with increased suicidality,” Joan Luby, MD, and Sarah Kertz, PhD, from the department of psychiatry at the Washington University School of Medicine, wrote in a related commentary.
Luby and Kertz added that social media use among girls may be more likely to result in interpersonal stress, which has previously been associated with youth suicide attempts. Additionally, girls use social media more often compared with boys and are also more likely to experience cyberbullying.
“Increasing rates of suicidality may be the ‘canary in the coal mine’ signaling important health concerns arising from the increased and pervasive use of social media affecting child and adolescent development,” they wrote. “Such a signal in general health would raise great alarm and calls to action, and it must not go unheeded in mental health.” – by Katherine Bortz
Disclosures: Luby reports receiving grants from the National Institute of Mental Health during the conduct of the study. Ruch reports no relevant financial disclosures. Please see the study for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.