The Suicide Rate Is Increasing for Young People — But Why?

Males generally commit suicide at higher rates, but the rates for young females are increasing, too. Csaba Peterdi/Shutterstock

In a disturbing new trend, research shows the rate of suicide is increasing among young people.

Between 2007-2015, the number of U.S. teens who visited emergency rooms due to suicidal thoughts or ideations doubled, according to a study published in JAMA Pediatrics. In 2007, the number of visits was 580,000; by 2015, that number had increased to 1.12 million, reports CNN.

When looking at suicide and gender, the suicide rate for males is generally higher, but there’s been an increase in suicides committed by females aged 10-14, reports Forbes. According to another study published in JAMA Network Open, the suicide rate increased three-fold among girls between the ages of 10-14 from 1999-2014. This significant increase has scientists concerned, especially when looking at the gender paradox related to suicidal behavior.

Jeff Bridge, director of the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at Nationwide Children’s and co-author of the study, tells Forbes, "One of the potential contributors to this gender paradox is that males tend to use more violent means, such as guns or hanging. That makes the narrowing of the gender gap in suicide by hanging or suffocation that we found especially concerning from a public health perspective.”

Finding a solution is no easy task. The fact that so many young people — regardless of gender — fight with depression every day and struggle with suicidal thoughts is devastating. But new research may give us insight into the differences between the development of depression in adolescent females and males, reports Psychology Today.

While this specific research doesn't focus on suicide, understanding the development of depression in young people, even to the degree of gender differences, could potentially help us pinpoint unique warning signs and prevention techniques.

How depression develops in boys and girls

young girl sits alone on swings
Females tend to develop depression much faster and earlier than males. Manfred Antranias Zimmer/Pixabay

Research published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence looked at the developmental course of depression in both females and males between the ages of 11-22. The data was culled from an organization based in Bristol, England, that’s been documenting the overall health of 14,500 families since the 1990s.

Researchers were able to determine results by looking at 9,300 participants who had been evaluated based on gender and at least one symptom of depression. To determine whether or not a participant experienced depression, they were assessed using the Short Mood and Feelings Questionnaire (SMFQ), which looks at 13 mood-related statements. Statements such as "I felt miserable or unhappy" or "I felt lonely today" were taken into account.

Using growth-curve modeling, researchers found that the developmental paths of depression for boys and girls differed significantly. Females tended to develop depression at a faster rate, while also hitting peak levels of depressive symptoms at an earlier age.

For males, the most rapid rate increase of depressive symptoms occurred at age 16.4, while females' biggest increase came at 13.5 years — meaning that by the time a depressed adolescent female reaches that age, she has developed more depressive symptoms than an adolescent male.

Why the difference?

young adolescent boy looks sad while sitting outside
The developmental paths of depression for boys and girls differed significantly. talib abdulla/Pixabay

There's no definitive answer for differences in the developmental course of depressive symptoms, but Arash Emamzadeh, author of the Psychology Today article, suggests that a general increase in symptoms during adolescence is possibly "because teenagers face numerous changes during this developmental period (e.g., puberty, school transition, forming friendships)."

As for females experiencing symptoms at an earlier age, Emamzadeh writes, "One possible explanation for this difference is the earlier puberty in females compared to males. For instance, previous research has shown that early age of menarche (first menstrual cycle) is associated with greater depressive symptoms."

Puberty is already a rough stage of adolescence, and the fact that females and males hit puberty at different ages could also play a role. This growing body of research could help us understand why and when adolescents are beginning to show depressive symptoms, and address their needs at an earlier stage.

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, there is help. For a list of phone numbers and resources across the U.S., visit the U.S. National Suicide & Crisis Hotlines webpage.