Prevalence Among the Young
Theories About Rising U.S. Incidence
This year more than 5,000 young Americans can be expected to kill themselves. Suicide has increasingly taken a heavier toll among the nation's youth, trailing only accidents and homicides as the leading cause of death for those between ages 15 and 24. Even younger children are sometimes unhappy enough to take their own lives; the National Center for Health Statistics reported almost 2,000 documented cases of suicide among children under 14 during a 13-year period ending in 1978, the latest year for which official figures are available.
Though official statistics are lacking for more recent years, mental health professionals do not discern any decline in the incidence of youth suicide. Some experts say that there are two to three suicides for every one recorded. The National Center for Health Statistics does not document suicide trends for children under 10, yet these children are believed to be committing suicide in increasing numbers. Also, many suicides are reported as accidents either to protect the families involved or because the coroner's office had no evidence of intentional death. For example, life-threatening risks that end in death are sometimes considered suicides in disguise, or “sneaky suicides.”
Many more teen-agers attempt suicide than commit it. Dr. Michael Peck, director of youth services at the Suicide Prevention Center in Los Angeles, believes that as many as 50,000 young people may attempt suicide in the United States each year and about a million or more children have suicidal crises, thoughts and episodes. Peck's research suggests that “up to 10 percent of the youngsters in any public school classroom may be considered at some risk for suicide.”