October 22, 2007

Trend Spotting: Suicide

author_karen By Karen Sternheimer 

When you see stories about trends in the news, do you ever stop and think about what it really means? I suspect most people take stories with statistics at face value; after all, if there are numbers to back up the story’s claims, why think twice?j0283871 

In this occasional feature, I will look deeper at a couple big, attention-grabbing headlines to question whether the so-called trend is really newsworthy or just another attempt to make a story out of a footnote. 

Is suicide a growing problem? 

According to the Los Angeles Times, yes. An article with the scary headline “Jump in Youth Suicides Reverses Trend” ran in early September, following the release of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The article notes a scary-sounding jump of 76% in suicides of girls ages ten to fourteen, and states that the overall suicide rate for people 10 to 24 increased “substantially,” by eight percent. 

Okay, now let’s look into these numbers more closely.   

1. Ten- to fourteen-year-old girls are highly unlikely to commit suicide.  j0407442

As the Times article concedes, the 76% rise represents the difference between 56 suicides in 2003 to 94 in 2004….out of a population of nearly ten million girls. Yes, 76% seems like a big number, but when we put it into perspective its actual meaning isn’t as dramatic as the percentage makes it sound. While each represents a tragedy, 38 more girls committing suicide still means that less than one in a million American girls in this age group committed suicide. 


2. Boys are far more likely to commit suicide than girls are. 

If you take a look at the graph above (I recommend clicking on it to see it best), you can see that at every age, boys and young men are more likely to commit suicide than girls are. Historically, this is because boys have been more likely to use more violent (and thus more lethal) methods to harm themselves than girls are. 

3. In spite of a slight up tick, suicide rates among young people are way down from a decade ago. 

Again, if you look at the graph above, the big story is that trends for females are basically flat in the long term and way down for teen boys and young men. Once again, any loss of life shouldn’t be minimized, but as far as major trends are concerned, the news is basically good. Statisticians call small movements up or down “noise” in the data; in other words, it is statistically unlikely to find the same number of suicides year-to-year. Take a look at the end of the graph—do those differences that really seem “significant” in context?   

4. The older a person is, the greater the likelihood they will commit suicide. 

Here’s the real story, the one that’s usually hidden. It’s not your teenage brother you should worry most about, but your grandfather. With the exception of the 65- to 74 year-old age group, suicide rates steadily increase with age. You might be surprised to find out that according to CDC data, the suicide rate for j0185235 men aged 85 and older is 47.8 per 100,000 (in contrast to the headline-grabbing .95 per 100,000 for 10-14 year-old girls). Elderly men are more than twice as likely to die of suicide than their 18-34 year-old grandsons, which is rather remarkable considering young men are far less likely to die, period (although they are more likely to be the victims of homicide than their parents or grandparents are). 


Why do you think we pay so much attention to teen suicide and all but ignore the rates at which adults take their own lives? I suspect it has something to do with the widespread assumption that teens are inherently unstable. But obviously life can bring significant challenges at any age. 

It is no less of a tragedy when someone in their middle or late adulthood decides to end their life. I myself have known three people who killed themselves (two were only about thirty, and one person was elderly) and have seen the horror, pain, and ongoing sadness their loss causes their loved ones. Trust me, it’s no easier to deal with a suicide if the person is older and well out of their teens. 

Ironically, the suicide story we hear over and over teaches us very little about suicide, but it does tell us something about our perceptions of young people. This “teen suicide” theme fosters the dubious belief that young people need ever more monitoring and control. What the actual trends tell us is that we need to invest far more resources in providing quality, comprehensive mental health care to people of all ages. 


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I actually always thought teen suicide was had a higher rate then any other age of suicide but after reading this, I was proven wrong. I am one of those people who just can not believe that elderly people would take their own lives more than a teen would. Teens have a lot more pressure put on them which causes them to stress out, become depressed, and sometimes commit suicide. Elderly people probably only commit suicide because their spouse died and they now have nothing else to live for especially if they have no children. Also, they could be on the verge of dieing, but because of the medications they are on, they are not able to die. So, they pull their own plug in a way and take their own lives. Like you said suicide is hard for eveyone and I,too have experienced it with a loved one. It was very hard for everyone to actaully believed it had happened, but some people actually do have legitimate reasons that they should die. Nevertheless, suicide is a horrible thing and it should be prevented as much as it can be.

The fact that teen suicide is not the highest rate of suicide doesn't surprise me. Teens have so much guidance when they get into a difficult spot. It is a lot different for struggling adults. Many probably wouldn't go to anyone for help. I believe the older we get, the more stubborn and independent we become. Adults have a lot more things going on in their lives, such as work, bill, and maybe even children. When the stress becomes to much, it seems they are more likely to commit suicide, where if a teen was feeling stressed, they would easily be able to talk to someone. As you said suicide is extremely tragic, whether it is a adult or teen. We should create a way to help people of all ages, preventing them from committing suicide.

I have always thought that teen suicide rates would have the highest suicide rate out of all ages but this article has shown me the truth. The fact of the matter is that teen suicides are more displayed in the media and we are always hearing about teen killings. We are bombarded by the news of teen suicides that we don't even realize suicides of other ages. I honestly did not know that elderly men were more likely to commit suicide than a teenage boy. That completely shocked me. I agree with you on the fact that each suicide is a tragedy and we need to focus on all suicides of every age and do what we can to prevent these from happening again.

I never would have guessed that the older a person gets, the more likely they are to commit suicide. I always thought teen suicide had the highest rates, probably because that's what the media makes us believe. I was also surprised to find out that an elderly man is more likely to commit suicide than a teenage boy. I thought teenage girls would be more likely to commit suicide than teenage boys too, only because girls are known as being more emotional and unstable. Reading this article i definitely learned a lot.

well kids will be kids until you strip away the innocents. Thats is when all this adult suicide comes in to place. What about their up bring what type of morals do they have and ofcourse it is always easier to foucs on teens rather than adults they all ways get away with issues that foucs on them point the fingers is what they are doing.

this article kind of caught me of gaurd. i thought that teen suicide was by far more than elderly suicide. guess i was wrong! i did believe that males would commit suicide over the females. adults have more stress but i would think they would know how to handle it better than teenagers i guess is why i thought teen suicide would be greater than elderly!

I never knew how much suicide would be dealing with elderly people.I always thought that teen suicide had a higher rate then others.

Suicide is a growing problems because we seem to focus on the younger people but when we need to focus on younger to older and guide these people to resources such as counseling to get some help.

I think my grandmother lost the will to live once we put her in a nursing home. She was over 80 years old with many health problems. It's still sad that she would give up on a hospital bed. It's like the people around her knew that her life was over.

I am not very surprised that the elderly are more likely to commit suicide than teenagers. I did find the jump in percent of young women to be very misleading. What I found very interesting is how homicide decreases with age and suicide increases. The graph showing those two was a bit of a shock to me. I also never looked at higher suicide rates among men as them being more capable of being violent, and therefore the attempt to work. This was all quite eye opening for me.

I was quite surprised hen i read that the older generation was more likely to commit suicide than teenagers were. This is such a sad life changing decision to a temorary problem. It is the most selfish act.

I was really surprised that the elderly had an higher suicide rate than the teens. I think suicide is a problem every where. Everyone can not deal with life and every situation that comes along with it.

I do think suicide is a growing problem because of the way the world is today. It's stressing everyone out and mostly adults. I think that when you look at a problem you should look at it, in everyone and treat it all the same. You need to give the same attention so you could see where the problem is. The way I see it is if an adult is doing that adult is the role model of that teen who is thinking of committing suicide.

Yes, in older people. We need to concentrate on the elderly. We concentrate more on teens than adults for suicide because we think teens have a lot more pressure and problems than adults do. We need to use our resources for the elderly.

I never thought about elderly suicice until reading this, I always thought it was just in teens

Today we don't really think of elderly people committing suicide. We don't think of them being people who would face problems like younger people do. This was a surprise to me.

According to the article (and the graph) we can see that suicide rates are flatlining and some decreasing. I beleive that we pay more attention to the suicide rates of teens because we all we normally hear about is that of the teenage suicides in which I personally beleive has a lot to do with the media.

According to the article the rate of suicide in the nation is decreasing. Teens are targeted more in this area for the same reason as they are for drinking. Society does not make the transgressions of adults out to be as big of a problem as it does teens. This is probably because people wish to help prevent teens from ruining their lives. To continue to lower suicide rates, just as much attention should be paid to the suicide rates of adults as teens.


I have heard that more elderly people commit suicide which surpised me at first. When you get older the people you grew up with get sick or die and it has to be very, very hard to cope with. That could be one of the reasons. Still I think there are many young people who are depressed and may consider suicide. My cousin was 22 years old when he commited suicide. I still believe that younger people need to be focused on as well.

According to the article, suicide is a problem but not neccessarily on the age group that we are focusing on when we talk about suicide. The older generations are actually more likely to commit suicide than the younger generation. I think we pay so much attention to teen suicide not only because teens are generally characterized as unstable rebels anyways, but also because they have so much life ahead of them. We should be using our resources wisely to make sure EVERYONE is taken better care of and make the chances of those people taking their own lives decrease.

Yes suicide rates are a problem, but apparantly not on the targetted age group we hear about. I hear of more teenage suicides than any other and I never really thought anything of it. I think that the media focus more on teenage suicides because it is more sad. We should use more resources to prevent all kinds of suicide, not just teenagers.

suicide seems to be the eazy way out but it isnt really you end up hurting millions of people not just your self

I believe that suicide is a growing problem because more people are giving up on life. What have you to live for if you're made fun of school all the time? Why should your parents get to die and leave you behind? Why did my wife/husband have to be the one to die and not me? These questions are ones that most who commit suicide ask themselves. Some people feel guilty that they lived in an accident that killed another person. Adults are supposedly supposed to know better than to kill themselves. Many people believe that children, teenagers, and young adults don't "know any better" than to kill themselves. I believe that we should give young people more credit than that. We, as a people, should be looking out for our fellow man, as well as ourselves. We should try and be looking for signs of suicide in people of all ages. Maybe then the suicide rates can quit climbing.

We must look at all ages overwhelming hopelessness is of all ages depression also had no ages to bearer no cares, good mental health is a must for all.

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