HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) - Suicides and homicides are on the rise among children, teens and young adults in the United States, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlighting what experts say is a disturbing trend among youth.
The latest CDC report states the number of suicides from people ages 10 to 24 spiked by nearly 56 percent between 2007 and 2017, the fastest rate of any age group. The rate climbed from 6.8 deaths per 100,000 people to 10.6.
Additionally, the rate of suicide among kids ages 10 to 14 almost tripled between 2007 and 2017. The report also shows rates of homicides in the same age group increased by 18 percent from 2014 to 2017.
Accidental deaths - car crashes, drug overdoses and drownings - remain the leading cause of death in this age group. However, deaths due to suicide and homicide are right behind and rising.
Some mental health experts suspect the teen suicide rate is even higher than what’s been reported, noting many suicides could be linked to accidental deaths.
While there’s no exact reason to pinpoint why the suicide rates are rising among today’s youth, experts have theories.
On the top of the list is the heavy use of social media. Some have attributed it to changing social structures, bullying, child abuse or neglect, relationship problems, and access to firearms or other lethal weapons.
“We all have the opioid crisis going on in all different areas of the country, and of course, a lot of the opioid problems are parents of these kids. So, the more that those problems grow, the more the kids are on their own. A lot of times we saw parents just say they really wanted to make a change, but they’d be so addicted that they never were putting their kids first," said Sandy Quast, with Coastal Haven Counseling.
Quast said young teenagers are fragile, still trying to figure out their identities and how they fit into the world. She also points out rates of depression have increased significantly over recent years.
“When you think about characteristics of depression, there’s social isolation, feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness. So, a lot of times you’ll see trends with kids kind of pulling back from the friends they used to hang out with, and if they used to do sports, they might stop doing that," Quast said. "But what happens is if they don’t get help, they try to kind of self-medicate and depending on their age, they might be getting into drugs or alcohol. And what that is is it’s really a cry for help to get past those feelings.”
Quast added that the community needs to come up with more constant screening methods to get ahead of the problem and prevent it from worsening. She said there’s many resources available, one of which is a simple assessment tool available called a Cross Cutter.
“I feel like if they utilize the tool like that regularly in school, even if the kids knew they’re going to get it every year, it’d be a way of them saying, ‘You know what? This is a way of me asking for help without having to say a word.’ So, I think something like that would be great to have for kids to assess them before it’s too late, before the problem gets too in depth, before they become suicidal, but then they realize that there’s channels that will be able to help them," she said. "This could just help to stop a lot of that right off the bat.”
In the meantime, Quast wants others to look for those red flags and learn how to detect the problem and cope before it’s too late.
While there’s no clear answer out yet on what’s behind the rise in teen suicides, mental health experts hope the latest research sparks a conversation to come up with strategies to help screen and identify vulnerable youth as early as possible.
If you or someone you know has talked about contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. It’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.