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Surveillance Summary Youth Suicide -- United States, 1970- 1980

Between 1970 and 1980, 49,496 of the nation's youth (15-24 years of age) committed suicide. The suicide rate for this age group increased 40% (from 8.8 deaths per 100,000 population in 1970 to 12.3/100,000 in 1980), while the rate for the remainder of the population remained stable. Young adults (20-24 years of age) had approximately twice the number and rate of suicides as teenagers (15-19 years old).

This increase in suicide for persons 15-24 years of age is due primarily to an increasing rate of suicide among young males: rates for males increased by 50% (from 13.5 to 20.2) compared with a 2% increase for females (4.2 to 4.3), so that by 1980, for this age group, the ratio of suicides committed by males to those committed by females was almost 5 to 1 (Figure 3). Most (89.5%) young male suicide victims were white. Moreover, the white male group showed a marked upward trend in suicide rates from 1970 to 1980; in fact, suicide rates for young white men have increased in each of the past three decades. Although rates increased for young males of black and other races, their rates remained lower than rates for young white males. Rates for young white females and for females of black and other races were approximately equal and relatively stable over time.

The western United States had consistently higher youth suicide rates from 1970 to 1980 than the other three regions (North Central, Northeastern, and Southern). However, this difference in rates had narrowed substantially by 1980 because rates for each of the other regions increased over the period.

The method of suicide changed significantly from 1970 to 1980. The proportion of suicides committed with firearms increased for both young males and females (15-24 years old), and the proportion of both males and females committing suicide by poisoning declined. The changes were more marked among females, who, in the past, have most commonly committed suicide by poisoning (Figure 4).

Data show that among persons 15-24 years of age, young white male adults (20-24 years old) have the highest suicide risk. Further research is needed to explain the marked increase in suicide among young white males, to characterize their deaths more precisely, and to develop and evaluate effective ways to prevent these deaths. Copies of the entire Youth Suicide Surveillance Summary: 1970-1980 (issued November 1986) are available from the Division of Injury Epidemiology and Control, Center for Environmental Health, Centers for Disease Control, Atlanta, Georgia 30333, telephone number (404) 454-4690, FTS 236-4690.

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