Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Youth Suicide Hysteria

In honor of the one-year anniversary of Modern School, I am reposting some of my favorite articles from the past year. The following is a very short piece, but it represents one of my favorite themes: debunking common misperceptions about youth. 

Teenagers are routinely portrayed as irresponsible risk takers and drug abusers who have rampant unprotected sex, contract STDs, get pregnant and kill themselves in droves. All of these are gross exaggerations. In fact, rates of pregnancy, STDs, drug abuse and suicide for teenagers have all been steadily declining and are generally lower than the rates for their parents' generation.

Youth Suicide Hysteria
Youth suicide rates are at the lowest levels ever recorded, with today's rate less than half that of 40 years ago. Youth suicide rates are far lower than adults, too.Only 1 in 2500 teens (13-19) kill themselves, whereas 1 in 900 parent-aged adults do.

While teen suicide, indeed all suicide, is tragic, what is generally not discussed, are the actual reasons for it. In today's media, we have been barraged with accounts of teens taking their own lives after being bullied, yet a far more common trend among teen suicides in not a history of bullying, but a history of living in an abusive family, according to Mike Males.


  1. Ummm when you cite a source, make sure your source has either done a study to confirm this, or cites a source himself. Your source did neither. Beyond that I was suicidal from 13-18, and even a bit in college. All from bullying. You really want to try to tell me that the problem isn't that bad?

  2. Sorry about the link. Males actually has done the research and sites considerable data and studies, but his website is really disorganized and hard to navigate.

    I am also sorry to hear about your rough past. However, I never said the problem isn't bad--I said it is far better than it's been in the last 40 years.

    I am also sorry you suffered bullying. I was bullied myself in middle school and was traumatized by the experience.

    Bullying sucks, but it rarely causes suicide, at least not on its own. (Your situation may be an exception) Mental illness and substance abuse and are by far the two most significant risk factors for suicide, accounting for as much as 87-98% of all suicides

    This is not to say that bullying should be ignored, but just that it has been exaggerated as a risk factor for suicide. Also, while teen suicide is a tragedy, it, too, has been greatly exaggerated. Teens are three times more likely to experience a parent’s suicide than to try to take their own life. They are also far more likely to die a violent death at the hands of their parents or other family members, than they are to take their own life. However, teens who grow up in abusive families or who have experienced violence or sexual abuse, have an increased chance of developing PTSD, depression and other mental illnesses that can lead to suicide.

    One final note: the current media obsession with bullying focuses on how f-ed up kids are. It is a deliberate attempt to distract attention from the fact that adults are far more likely than kids to commit suicide, have unplanned pregnancies, catch STDs, become addicted to drugs and commit violent crimes and even bully kids.

  3. Okay, quick question, can't bullying cause mental illness (and of course vice versa, I am autistic, hence I was bullied, not that I consider autism a mental illness...). I was never depressed before I was bullied, after a few years of it (that I finally understood, I am sure I was bullied for longer) I am sure that I would have been diagnosed with major depression in a heart beat no problem (I hated shrinks though), and major depression is the leading mental illness cause of suicide.

    Just checking it out, I had the following symptoms on DSM-IVs diagnostic criteria of major depressive disorder, which I have to believe was caused by bullying.

    Depressed most of the day everyday...
    Marked diminished interest or pleasure in all or almost all daily activities...
    Towards the end there was weight gain... but then again that could be adolescence
    Regular insomnia
    Psychomotor problems... but then again autism lol
    Major fatigue
    Inappropriate guilt... can't tell you how much I suffered from that...
    And suicidal idolation with a loose plan in mind.

    Thus I think its pretty clear that bullying can cause major depressive disorder as there is nothing saying it can't, and it is pretty clear that bullying can cause most of the symptoms, the only ones that I didn't neccesarily have are weight loss/gain (which you can't tell because of the time frame) and psychomotor problems (which you can't tell because of the autism).

  4. Sure, bullying can make one depressed, but so can autism, even without bullying. Furthermore, depression can make one stand out and look like a fair target to a bully.

    And autism does not necessarily lead to bullying. I've had Asperger's students who were among the most popular kids in my class.

    And bullying does not necessarily lead to depression or suicidal thoughts. The bullying I suffered was frustrating and unpleasant, but I also had a good support network at home, friends who I could count on, and sufficient self-confidence to survive it.

    Bottom line #1: bullying is wrong and schools need to do a better job of stopping it.

    Bottom line #2: teen suicide is way down, which is probably due to the fact that we are doing a much better job of providing mental health support, education and intervention.