Suicide (i.e., taking one's own life) is a serious public health problem that affects even young people. For youth between the ages of 10 and 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death. It results in approximately 4600 lives lost each year. The top three methods used in suicides of young people include firearm (45%), suffocation (40%), and poisoning (8%).
Deaths from youth suicide are only part of the problem. More young people survive suicide attempts than actually die. A nationwide survey of youth in grades 9–12 in public and private schools in the United States (U.S.) found that 16% of students reported seriously considering suicide, 13% reported creating a plan, and 8% reporting trying to take their own life in the 12 months preceding the survey. Each year, approximately 157,000 youth between the ages of 10 and 24 receive medical care for self-inflicted injuries at Emergency Departments across the U.S.
Suicide affects all youth, but some groups are at higher risk than others. Boys are more likely than girls to die from suicide. Of the reported suicides in the 10 to 24 age group, 81% of the deaths were males and 19% were females. Girls, however, are more likely to report attempting suicide than boys. Cultural variations in suicide rates also exist, with Native American/Alaskan Native youth having the highest rates of suicide-related fatalities. A nationwide survey of youth in grades 9–12 in public and private schools in the U.S. found Hispanic youth were more likely to report attempting suicide than their black and white, non-Hispanic peers.
Several factors can put a young person at risk for suicide. However, having these risk factors does not always mean that suicide will occur.
- History of previous suicide attempts
- Family history of suicide
- History of depression or other mental illness
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Stressful life event or loss
- Easy access to lethal methods
- Exposure to the suicidal behavior of others
Most people are uncomfortable with the topic of suicide. Too often, victims are blamed, and their families and friends are left stigmatized. As a result, people do not communicate openly about suicide. Thus an important public health problem is left shrouded in secrecy, which limits the amount of information available to those working to prevent suicide.
The good news is that research over the last several decades has uncovered a wealth of information on the causes of suicide and on prevention strategies. Additionally, CDC is working to monitor the problem and develop programs to prevent youth suicide.
Featured CDC Programs
- Division of Violence Prevention
CDC's Division of Violence Prevention is committed to stopping violence, including suicide, before it begins.
- Antidepressant Use in Children, Adolescents, and Adults
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed that makers of all antidepressant medications update the existing black box warning on their products' labeling to include warnings about increased risks of suicidal thinking and behavior, known as suicidality, in young adults ages 18 to 24 during initial treatment (generally the first one to two months).
- Healthy Passages
Healthy Passages is a multiyear, longitudinal study to help families, schools, communities, and health care providers understand how children grow to be healthy, educated, and productive members of society. The study will help explain why young people sometimes choose risky over healthy behaviors.
- National Strategy for Suicide Prevention (NSSP)
The NSSP is the first attempt in the United States to prevent suicide through a systematic approach. It lays out a framework for developing an array of suicide prevention services and programs. At all levels of government as well as in the private sector, the NSSP emphasizes coordination of resources and the application of culturally appropriate services.
- National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS)
CDC has funded 18 states and established the NVDRS to gather, share, and link state-level data on violent deaths. NVDRS provides CDC and states with a more complete understanding of violent deaths. This enables policy makers and community leaders to make informed decisions about violence prevention programs, including those that address suicide.
- Preventing Suicide: A Toolkit for High Schools
Assists high schools and school districts in designing and implementing strategies to prevent suicide and promote behavioral health. Includes tools to implement a multi-faceted suicide prevention program that responds to the needs and cultures of students.
- Reporting on Suicide: Recommendations for the Media [PDF 979KB]
The media play a powerful role in educating wide and varied audiences about suicide prevention. The media can inform readers and viewers about the likely causes of suicide and about warning signs, trends in suicide rates, and recent advances in prevention. Such careful and thorough coverage will help to guide the media in educating its readers and viewers about the steps that can be taken to prevent suicide.
- School Health Guidelines to Prevent Unintentional Injuries and Violence
The guidelines help state and local educational agencies and schools promote safety and help teach students the skills needed to prevent injuries and violence. These guidelines also help direct all components of a coordinated school health program for all grade levels.
- School Health Index (SHI)
SHI is a self-assessment and planning tool that enables a school to identify the strengths and weaknesses of its health and safety policies and programs. SHI also helps to develop an action plan for improving student health and safety, and to involve teachers, parents, students, and the community in improving school services.
- The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Prevent Suicide
This document introduces a blueprint for addressing suicide: Awareness, Intervention, and Methodology (AIM). This approach is derived from the collaborative deliberations of participants at the 1st National Suicide Prevention Conference. As a framework for suicide prevention, AIM includes 15 key recommendations refined from deliberative consensus and from evidence-based findings.
WISQARS (Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System, pronounced "whiskers") is a national, interactive database of injury-related morbidity and mortality data useful for research and for making informed public health decisions.
- World Report on Violence and Health [PDF 238KB]
This report is the first comprehensive review of violence on a global scale. Chapter 7 provides detailed information on suicidal behavior, including information about risk factors and prevention strategies.
- Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System
CDC's YRBSS monitors health-risk behaviors-including suicidal behaviors—that contribute to the leading causes of death and disability among young people in the United States.