- Recent research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicates the suicide rate for teens ages 15 to 19 is at its highest point in 20 years, and that suicide is now the second-leading cause of death for that age group, Education Week reports.
- The report, based on statistics from the Centers for Disease Control’s Underlying Cause of Death database, reveals the increase has mainly occurred between 2007 and 2017, reaching a rate of 11.8 suicides per 100,000 in 2017, with males more than three times more likely than females to commit suicide.
- The rise in the suicide rate is attributed to increased use of social media, anxiety and depression, though the report suggests more research is needed.
Though student suicides rarely happen at school, teen suicides are often related to events occurring there or with schoolmates. According to an article published in Psychology Today, student suicide rates increase during the school year.
Cyberbullying via social media is among the main causes of suicide because negative comments can now spread so widely and thoughtlessly, and increased access to cell phones makes the problem worse. The stress and anxiety of schoolwork and testing can also contribute to the problem. Stress and depression aren't limited to secondary school students, either — they can affect elementary students, as well.
Once a student suicide or a tragedy such as a school shooting occurs, the entire student body is impacted. Suicides can occur in clusters, making it more important that schools are prepared to deal with these events by providing mental health support and using toolkits designed to help students deal with these issues. As recent school tragedies suggest, mental health support can be a school safety issue, as well.
Other factors such as family problems, substance abuse issues, and depression can also affect teen suicide rates. But schools are well-positioned to provide support for these concerns if they have the counselors available. While a 250-to-1 ratio is recommended to provide adequate support, the caseload is often much higher in many states, with Arizona peaking at 905-to-1 — and funds aren't always available to help lower the numbers.
Training teachers to identify potential problems can provide additional support. Principals have a number of options, also including community partnerships, to help students gain access to the mental health resources they need, and making sure students know how to find them is often the biggest part of the battle.
Other broader preventative strategies include incorporating social emotional learning and specific programs such as Sources of Strength that allow schools to deal more openly with topics like depression and thoughts of suicide. Strengthening peer relationships and student relationships with staff members is another pro-active measure. While some states are stepping up to strengthen suicide prevention programs in schools, it's important that schools create policies and look for strategies that can be the most effective for their situations.