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  • Dale Wisely, Ph.D.

Suicide now #1 cause of deaths among teenagers

Updated: Mar 10, 2021

Suicide is now the leading cause of death among American teenagers, exceeding motor vehicle crashes which had long been the leading cause of deaths in this age group. However, the number of deaths from these two causes are so close they are effectively tied. This is according to stats from the Centers for Disease Control. The most recent data is from 2019, which means that it reflects increases in youth suicide rates prior to the Covid pandemic.

In recent years, suicide rates have increased in most demographics, including teenagers. Suicide rates in this age group increased after World War II, decreased between 1995 and 2008, and have been rising since.

During similar periods the rates of deaths of teenagers in motor vehicle crashes have dramatically declined.

A death rate is the number of deaths in a year out of 100,000 people in one demographic.

In 2002, the death rate for motor vehicle crashes among those age 14 to 19 was 24. In 2019 (the most recent year for which we have data) the rate was 10. In less than 20 years, we have seen deaths of teenagers in motor vehicle crashes cut by more than half. This appears to be a combination of factors, including safer cars, graduated licensing laws, and other measures.

So, for motor vehicle deaths, a rate of 24 in 2002 and a rate of 10 in 2019.

For suicide, we show a rate of 7 in 2002 and a rate of 10 in 2019.

The raw numbers of deaths are slightly higher for suicide deaths than motor vehicle crashes.

We were in a crisis regarding suicide before COVID. It will be a while before we know how the pandemic has affected suicide rates. In the meantime, there is evidence of increases in suicidal thinking among teenagers.

All In Mountain Brook will continue to advocate for increased awareness of the tragedy of youth suicide and to provide resources for those who want to learn more and help.

Dale Wisely, Ph.D. Executive Director

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