Jun 15, 2023 - Health

Suicides and homicides among youths reach 20-year high

Data: National Center for Health Statistics ; Chart: Axios Visuals

Kids and young adults were nearly as likely to die by suicide as they were from homicide in 2020 and 2021, according to CDC data published Thursday.

The big picture: It's the latest sign that the youth mental health crisis might be colliding with the rise in gun violence in the U.S.

By the numbers: Thursday's data showed suicide rates among the 10–24 age group reached a 20-year-high in 2021.

  • While homicide was declining for that age group from 2006 to 2014, it increased 60% through 2021.
  • The largest annual increase in homicides in the 20-year period happened between 2019 and 2020 with a 37% jump.
  • Homicide rates nearly doubled for 15-to-19-year-olds from 2014 to 2021 and surpassed suicide rates in 2020.
  • The greatest increase in suicide rates were among those aged 20–24, who saw a 9% increase between 2020 and 2021, or 17.8 to 19.4 per 100,000 people.

What's happening: Explanations of the trends could vary by income and racial and ethnic groups, said Steven Woolf, director emeritus of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Center on Society and Health.

  • But general factors include limited access to mental health services and providers and insurance plans offering poor coverage of it amid worsening depression, trauma and anxiety among kids, Woolf told Axios.
  • There's also increased access to firearms.
  • And there can be potential miscoding where an accidental drug overdose is classified as a suicide.

Context: Gun deaths jumped 50% among children and teens under 18 between 2019 and 2021, per a Pew Research Center analysis of separate CDC data.

  • In 2021, suicides accounted for more than half of U.S. gun deaths and over 80% of murders involved a firearm.
  • Suicide and homicide are also the second and third leading causes of death, respectively, for Americans ages 10–24 and the fatalities from each continue to increase, said Sally Curtin, lead author and statistician at CDC.

The bottom line: "We have a real crisis in terms of our behavioral health system in the United States," Woolf said. "It's bad enough for adults, but it's even worse for young people."

  • "We're now at a point where the chances of a child becoming an adult are going down," Woolf told Axios. "That's a crisis where we really need to be taking action."

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988. Ayuda disponible en español.

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