Youth suicide climbs at alarming rate, report says
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--The number of youth who take their own lives increased by 8 percent in a period of one year, the largest single-year rise in 15 years, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Scott Stevens, director of student ministry at LifeWay Church Resources, told Baptist Press it's not uncommon for youth ministers to hear teenagers voice thoughts of suicide.
"Teens face challenges of many kinds, not to mention the pressures of a performance-based existence where often the only time they feel accepted is when they excel in their performance -- in athletics, academics, etc.," Stevens said. "Unfortunately, teen suicide continues to be a permanent 'solution' to what are often painful but temporary problems."
The study, released in September, found that after a 28.5 percent decrease in suicides among people ages 10-24 from 1990 to 2003, rates jumped 8 percent in 2004. Observers say they're not sure whether it's a one-year spike or the start of a trend, according to a report by USA Today.
The most significant increase was found among girls ages 10-14, an age and gender group which saw suicides rise 76 percent from 56 per 100,000 in 2003 to 94 per 100,000 in 2004, the study said. Hanging and suffocation were the most common forms of suicide in that group, accounting for 71.4 percent of the deaths.
"Knowing that every incident is unique, I wouldn't begin to prescribe a universal solution," Chad Childress, director of children's and student evangelism at the North American Mission Board, told BP. "However, the one thing I do know is that every teen must have unconditional love, acceptance and appreciation. I believe those are best found in two spheres of influence.
"First, the home must be the safe haven to unload and find freedom to mess up. Second, a community of friends and adults [is needed to] speak life, purpose and meaning into the lives of their friends," Childress said. "For those of us who call the name of Jesus Christ, we must lead the way, be the influence and proclaim freedom that is found in Christ alone."
Some of the warning signs parents and youth workers can look for include talking about taking one's life, feeling sad or hopeless about the future, changes in eating or sleeping habits, and losing the desire to take part in favorite activities, the lead author of the study said.
"Proper response is the key," Stevens of LifeWay said. "Any time a student voices suicidal thoughts, they must be taken seriously and not discounted as a mere cry for attention."
Key questions to explore include whether the student has thought about how he/she might commit suicide and whether the student has the means to carry out the suicide, Stevens said.
"In addition, one might ask the teen to contact them if they feel like they are about to take their own life. Immediate intervention is needed," Stevens said. "Parents and other authorities and caregivers must be alerted. This is not a time for secrets, and if a teen's friend is voicing thoughts of suicide, they need to share this information with an adult."
Stevens has had the experience of sitting in a living room with a mother and father while the body of their son, who had shot himself, was still in the bathroom.
"Words are not adequate at such a time, and I believe the most we can offer is a ministry of presence. The best thing I had to share with these grieving parents, and that I shared at this young man's funeral, was that I knew he had accepted Christ as his Savior during our DiscipleNow weekend a few months earlier and was confident of his eternal home," Stevens said. "When it comes to suicide, especially teen suicide, there will always be more questions than answers. That's why any threat in this direction must be dealt with immediately."
A Centers for Disease Control survey found that 17 percent of high school students said they'd seriously considered suicide in the past 12 months, 13 percent said they had created a plan to commit suicide, and 8 percent said they had tried to kill themselves.
"This study demands that we strengthen our efforts to help parents, schools and health care providers prevent things that increase the risk of suicide," Ileana Arias, director of the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, told USA Today. "We need to build on the efforts dedicated to education, screening and treatment and bridge the gap between the knowledge we currently have and the action we must take."
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press. Art Toalston, editor of Baptist Press, contributed to this report.