Suicide rates are rising among young girls, study finds

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By Erika Edwards

For years, more boys than girls have taken their own lives — but that divide is narrowing.

And it’s not because fewer boys are dying by suicide. It’s because the number of girls doing so is rising, according to research released Friday by Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

Suicide is still a leading cause of death among teenagers, but the researchers found a disproportionate increase in the number of suicides by younger girls from the ages of 10 to 14.

“We can’t think it’s just a male problem,” said study author Donna Ruch, a researcher at Nationwide Children’s Center for Suicide Prevention and Research.

Ruch and her colleagues analyzed national data on suicides from 1975 to 2016 among children and teens 10 to 19. Suicide rates fell during the 1990s, but started to climb in 2007, according to the study published Friday in JAMA Network Open. Rates increased among both boys and girls, but more so for girls.

We can’t think it’s just a male problem.

“It’s not just numbers. We’re seeing a trend,” Ruch told NBC News. “But we don’t have good information about what is driving this shift.”

Outside experts suggest part of the reason rates started increasing in 2007 was because of better surveillance and reporting. The CDC’s National Violent Death Reporting System began collecting information on violent deaths, including suicides, from six states in 2002. Other states were gradually added, with data collection rising to all 50 states just last year.

“We’re also treating youth depression less aggressively than we were back in the 1990s,” said Julie Cerel, a psychologist at the University of Kentucky and former president of the American Association of Suicidology.

In 2004, the FDA added a black box warning to antidepressants, indicating the drugs are associated with an increased risk for suicidal thoughts in young people. Cerel said that deterred some parents and doctors from giving the medications to teenagers.