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Beginning in the 1950s, the adolescent suicide rate rose sharply in the U.S. It peaked in the 1980s, then subsided briefly until it began to rise again in the 21st century. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide increased most sharply among teens and young adults, aged 15-24.

Why is the suicide rate rising among adolescents in the U.S.?

In the 1970s, University of Chicago professor Edward A. Wynne noticed and studied this trend, and in 1977, published a thought-provoking book titled Growing Up Suburban.

Wynne correlated increasing rates of depression among adolescents with the characteristics of suburban culture, which was on the rise during the same time period. He describes the features of this suburban culture for adolescents as being homogenous, privatized, isolated from a real, meaningful community life and responsibility, and disconnected. Suburban children cannot easily reach locations beyond their immediate neighborhood, and the parents are not in the neighborhood but out working in offices that have no connection to the families and local community. Instead, these kids’ connection to the world was carried out from a distance, tucked away in private homes in suburban communities.

Today we might refer to this disconnect as a “virtual” existence as many kids escape to a virtual world to avoid feelings of uselessness and disconnection in their own reality.

According to the Huffington Post, “The suicide rate for girls ages 15 to 19 doubled from 2007 to 2015… The suicide rate for boys ages 15 to 19 increased by 30 percent over the same time period.” Unfortunately, the escape to the virtual realm may be one of the biggest contributing factors with heavy social media use, but the rise in suicides may also be attributed to bullying, economic burdens, family issues, and exposure to violence.

What parents can do

Pay attention if you notice the symptoms of depression. According to Dan Reidenberg, executive director of the Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, many parents attribute symptoms of adolescent depression to “teen angst,” but he states, “While the teen brain is still developing, teens do struggle with genuine mental illnesses and they need to be properly evaluated and treated.”

No matter what the contributing factors to depression in adolescents are, there are signs that the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry says indicate a need for help if they persist. Do not ignore these symptoms:

  • Frequent sadness, tearfulness, crying
  • Decreased interest in activities; or inability to enjoy previously favorite activities
  • Hopelessness
  • Persistent boredom; low energy
  • Social isolation, poor communication
  • Low self-esteem and guilt
  • Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure
  • Increased irritability, anger, or hostility
  • Difficulty with relationships
  • Frequent complaints of physical illnesses such as headaches and stomach aches
  • Frequent absences from school or poor performance in school
  • Poor concentration
  • A major change in eating and/or sleeping patterns
  • Talk of or efforts to run away from home
  • Thoughts or expressions of suicide or self-destructive behavior

Consider early consultation with a professional. If you notice any one or several of these signs persisting over time, early consultation with a health professional is vital. Medical professionals can provide the expertise and necessary tools, including but not limited to medication when appropriate. Professional services for specific needs can be recommended, such as behavior modification, guidance to parents about their role in helping their child, help with making environmental changes and more.

Suicide prevention is not a task to be taken lightly. If you feel your child is suffering from depression, or for more information about adolescent depression, please contact us.