CDC finds troubling rise in teen suicide method

Mar 5, 2015 5:05 PM by NBC News

More teens who are killing themselves are choosing suffocation and strangling, government researchers reported Thursday. And more young women are committing suicide.

It's a troubling trend and it's not clear what's driving it, the team at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

"The data don't allow us to determine why," said the CDC's Thomas Simon, a suicide expert who helped lead the study. "Is it social media? Is it conventional media? Is it access to other methods?"

What CDC is very worried about is giving troubled a teens a "how-to" guide for how to commit suicide, but the agency also wants parents, teachers, friends and others to be aware of the risks. When media report on certain suicide methods, often officials see a rise in suicides afterwards, using the method described.

It's also worrying because suffocation is lethal. Unlike attempts at poisoning, most suffocation attempts do end up killing the victim.

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among children and young adults aged 10 to 24. In 2012, more than 5,000 teens and young adults died by suicide.

Simon's team wanted to see if anything's changed by race, sex, geography or method of death and looked at death reports from 1994 to 2012.

"Results of the analysis indicated that, during 1994-2012, suicide rates by suffocation increased, on average, by 6.7 percent and 2.2 percent annually for females and males, respectively," they wrote in the CDC's weekly report on death and illness.

Suicide rates overall went down among young men and boys from 1994 to 2007, but then headed back up again, the team found. Suicide rates for girls and women also rose after 2007.

"Among persons aged 10-24 years, suicide rates are higher in males than in females. Suicide rates by suffocation (including hanging) have been increasing among females in this age group since the early 1990s," they wrote.

"It seems to be a pervasive pattern," Simon told NBC News.

The findings make it more important than ever for people to be aware of the warning signs for suicide.

They include:

Talking about wanting to die
Talking about feeling trapped
Talking about feeling unbearable pain, or feeling like a burden to others
Acting anxious or agitated
Behaving recklessly
Becoming socially isolated
"If somebody is close to someone who is acting this way, it is OK to talk to them," Simon said. "If they are vulnerable, it is important not to leave that person alone."

In such cases, he advises calling the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

It's also important to make sure troubled young people do not have access to lethal means, including guns, pills or ways to suffocate themselves. "In institutions, hospitals, prisons, we are able to use methods like restricting access to materials that can be used for suffocation," Simon said.

That's harder to do in a home and makes it more important not to leave a troubled person alone, he said.

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