Teen suicide is a growing problem in the United States, and according to the Centers for Disease Control, it’s the third leading cause of death in Americans aged 15 to 24. Gender is a risk factor in several key statistics. Boys are more likely to succeed at taking their own lives while girls are much more likely to provide clear warning signs before attempting suicide. The good news in these statistics is that adolescent girls can be helped – and lives saved – with appropriate intervention strategies.
Gender as a Risk Factor
The statistics demonstrate that adolescent and teenage girls make significantly more attempts on their own lives than their male counterparts, but boys succeed more frequently. The CDC reports that in 2009, among high-school-age girls in the United States, 17 percent had considered suicide, 13 percent had planned it and 8 percent had attempted it. For the same time period, only 4 percent of boys attempted suicide. Girls tend to turn to methods such as cutting and taking pills, whereas boys use more violent methods such as guns, hanging or jumping from a high place. Fortunately, girls also provide a much higher prevalence of warning signs. Consequently, it is important for parents to know what to look for.
Recognize the Warning Signs
The CDC reports that 90 percent of teens (boys and girls) who attempt suicide have some form of mental illness or psychological disorder. For girls, the statistics portray a perfect storm of four factors that, when present, are clear indicators of suicide risk. Those are 1) the presence of a psychiatric disorder, most notably depression; 2) the presence of externalizing behaviors such as delinquency and aggression; 3) alcohol and/or substance abuse; and 4) negative social exchanges with family. Other potential risk factors include suicides or attempts at suicide within the family or by people in her school or community, isolation or a lack of social support, restricted access to mental health services, access to firearms and stressful life events.
Youth Suicide Prevention Strategies
Whereas risk factors increase the probability of suicide or an attempt, protective factors decrease these risks. Protective factors increase resilience in adolescent girls and help them navigate difficult times in life. As you may imagine, many protective factors are the converse of risk factors, including restricted access to firearms and ready access to mental health and substance abuse services. Good physical health and access to health care are protective factors, as is a supportive peer group. Having a strong connection with family and community is critical, as is a cultural or religious belief system that views suicide negatively. By far, however, the most important protective factor for an adolescent or teen girl is the ability to effectively resolve conflict and solve problems.
At Havenwood Academy, residential treatment programs for adolescent girls are designed to address the risk factors for suicide and to help young women develop the necessary skills that provide resilience. Contact the compassionate, professional team at Havenwood to discuss teen suicide and how to prevent it.