After decreasing in the 1990s, suicide rates in young Americans age 15 to 24 years increased in 2017 to its highest point since 2000, according to a research letter published in JAMA.

Oren Miron, MA, of the Department of Biomedical Informatics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, and colleagues searched the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Underlying Cause of Death database to identify suicide rates based on International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, Tenth Revision codes. They evaluated data on individuals between the age of 15 and 19 years and 20 and 24 years for males and females, both separately and combined.

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The researchers found that in 2017, 6241 suicides occurred in individuals age 15 to 24 years; there were 5016 suicides in males and 1225 in females. The suicide rate per 100,000 was 11.8 for individuals age 15 to 19 years, with a significant difference between males and females, with rates of 17.9 and 5.4, respectively. In contrast, the suicide rate in 2000 was 8 per 100,000 for this age group. No change in trend occurred between 2000 and 2007 (annual percent change [APC], −1.7%), but between 2007 and 2015 the suicide rate increased (APC, 3.1%). Between 2015 and 2017, the trend accelerated, with an APC of 10.0%.

In males, the suicide rate decreased between 2000 and 2007 (APC, –2.2%), but increased between 2007 and 2015 (APC, 2.6%). Between 2015 and 2017, the APC was 14.2%.  The investigators found no trend in females between 2000 and 2010 (APC, 1.8%), but they found an increasing trend from 2010 to 2017 (APC, 8.2%).

In adults age 20 to 24 years, the suicide rate in 2017 was higher than in the younger age group: 17 per 100,000. It was highest in males at 27.1 per 100,000 compared with 6.2 per 100,000 in females. The rate in 2000 was 12.5 per 100,000, with an increasing trend from 2000 to 2013 of 1.1% APC. 

The researchers noted that death certificates are not always accurate, and that some of the increase in recent years may be due to families and coroners being more willing to list suicide as a cause of death.

“Future studies should examine possible contributing factors and attempt to develop prevention measures by understanding the causes for the decrease in suicides found in the late 1990s,” researchers concluded.

Reference

Miron O, Yu K-H, Wilf-Miron R, Kohane IS. Suicide rates among adolescents and young adults in the United States, 2000-2017. JAMA. 2019;321(23):2362-2364.