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Suicide among adolescent girls has climbed at an alarming rate

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I heard a story this morning on NPR that was pretty concerning.

A new report released Friday by the CDC found that the suicide rate in the U.S. reached a 30-year high in 2014.

And between 1999 and 2014, it climbed steadily for every age group, except for people 75 and older.

But the part that really caught my attention was that adolescent girls, between 10 and 14 years old, saw the highest jump during that 15-year period - though they make up a very small portion of total suicides.

The rate tripled from 0.5 to 1.7 per 100,000 people.

And researchers at the CDC say actual deaths are just the tip of the iceberg. In any given year, there are way more attempts.

So why the drastic increase?

Dr. Maria Oquendo is a psychiatry professor at Columbia University. She told NPR one reason may be the black box on antidepressants. That's the label that says the medications can increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and actions in people under age 26.

Oquendo said:

Some of the increment in suicide deaths in the younger populations is potentially linked to an understandable reluctance by physicians who see these youngsters to prescribe antidepressants, even when they're aware that the individual is suffering from depression.

Another idea researchers have is early puberty. On average, girls hit peak puberty at around 11 years old, but some studies show that girls are starting their periods earlier. Puberty is associated with the onset of psychological disorders, specifically depression.

According to NPR:

Depression is a big risk factor for suicidal thoughts and actions. So, because of the shifting age of puberty onset, girls might be opening the door to anxiety, depression and other psychiatric disorders earlier on in life.

Despite these theories, there are still more questions than answers about why this trend is happening.

Here are some children and teen mental health facts from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI):

  • 50 percent of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and 75 percent by age 24;
  • 70 percent of youth in state and local juvenile justice systems have a mental illness;
  • Suicide is the third-leading cause of death in youth ages 10-24; and
  • 90 percent of those who died by suicide in 2014 had an underlying mental illness.

Warning signs kids might show include:

  • Feeling very sad or withdrawn for more than 2 weeks (crying regularly, feeling fatigued, feeling unmotivated);
  • Trying to harm or kill oneself or making plans to do so;
  • Not eating, throwing up or using laxatives to lose weight; significant weight loss or gain;
  • Drastic changes in behavior, personality or sleeping habits (waking up early and acting agitated); and
  • Intense worries or fears that get in the way of daily activities like hanging out with friends or going to classes.

Some things parents can do to help:

  • Talk with your pediatrician
  • Get a referral to a mental health specialist
  • Work with the school
  • Connect with other families

You can listen to that NPR story here.

If you or someone you know shows the warning signs of suicide, seek help as soon as possible by contacting a medical or mental health professional, or by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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