According to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide rates in the United States are on the rise, especially in women. From 1999 through 2014, the age-adjusted suicide rate in the United States increased 24%, from 10.5 to 13.0 per 100,000 population. The suicide rate increased by 1% yearly between 1999 and 2006 and then by 2% per yearly between 2006 and 2014.
Every age group from 10 to 74 noted an increase in suicide rates. Although men still have higher rates of suicide, the gap between rates of suicide in women and men is narrowing. The following graph shows suicide rates in women:
You can see on this graph that the largest increases were observed in adolescent girls. While suicide is uncommon in this group, the suicide rate among girls aged 10-14 tripled between 1999 and 2014. The second largest increase was observed in women between the ages of 45 and 64.
Why Now? Why Adolescent Girls?
From the late 80s through the 90s, suicide deaths were declining, in part due to more effective antidepressants with fewer side effects. (Prozac was first marketed in the U.S. in 1988.) So why are we headed in the wrong direction?
There are many hypotheses but nobody really knows why such a sharp increase has been observed in women and in adolescent girls in particular:
In 2004, the FDA issued a black box warning for antidepressants which has resulted in a decrease in the use of antidepressants in adolescents.
Earlier onset of puberty may increase risk for depression, which is a risk factor for suicide.
Lower marriage rates and higher divorce rates may contribute to social isolation, dissolution of family, and poverty, factors which increase risk for suicide.
Increased use of social media and cyberbullying.
There are likely multiple factors fueling the increase in suicide rates among women. The author of the study, Dr. Sally Curtin makes an important point, noting that this finding is just “the tip of the iceberg”. For every death by suicide there are many more women who attempt suicide and even more women who have untreated psychiatric illness.
Ruta Nonacs, MD PhD
Curtin S, Warner M, Hedegaard H. Increase in Suicide in the United States, 1999–2014. NCHS Data Brief No. 241. 2016.
U.S. Suicide Rate Surges to a 30-Year High (New York Times)