Suicides among female youth have jumped disproportionately over the past decade, according to a new study conducted by researchers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. The study, published last month in JAMA Network Open, shows girls—particularly those between the ages of 10 to 14—bucking a historical trend of youth suicides occurring predominantly among males.
“Overall, we found a disproportionate increase in female youth suicide rates compared to males, resulting in a narrowing of the gap between male and female suicide rates,” says Donna Ruch, Ph.D., a post-doctoral researcher in the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, and the study’s author.
Four decades of data examined
The researchers identified more than 85,000 youth suicides from 1975-2016. Over that four-decade span, males comprised more than 80% of the suicides reported. And while they found that all youth suicides declined during most of the 1990s and early 2000s, suicide rates have been climbing again since 2007—with a spike among females, particularly in pre- and early-teen girls. Those findings echo a 2016 CDC report that showed the suicide rate among girls ages 10-14 had tripled from 1999-2014.
Youth suicide’s gender paradox
An important component of the research focused on the methods of suicide. The historical paradox of youth suicide is that while males commit more suicides, females attempt suicide at a higher rate and typically choose less violent methods. But the new research reveals females increasingly selecting more violent—and thus more lethal—means of suicide.
“One of the potential contributors to this gender paradox is that males tend to use more violent means, such as guns or hanging,” says Jeff Bridge, Ph.D., director of the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at Nationwide Children’s and co-author of the study. “That makes the narrowing of the gender gap in suicide by hanging or suffocation especially concerning from a public health perspective.”
Using gender to inform prevention
The study’s authors say more research is warranted to further examine the role gender plays in suicide risk factors, and how they may inform preventative measures.
“From a public health perspective, in terms of suicide prevention strategies, our findings reiterate the importance of not only addressing developmental needs but also taking gender into account,” says Ruch.
Nationwide Children’s has also studied the effect of the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” on teen suicide.