Infectious Disease

Suicidality increased in certain high schoolers from 2019 to 2021

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Key takeaways:

  • From 2019 to 2021, high school girls experienced increased rates of suicidality.
  • There were differences by race and ethnicity in girls.
  • Suicidal ideation and behaviors remained stable for boys during this time.

Rates of suicidal behavior and ideation increased among high school girls, according to findings published in a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report Supplement.

Elizabeth M. Gaylor, MPH, of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, and colleagues analyzed data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) collected in 2019 and 2021. The YRBS is conducted biennially and surveys a nationally representative sample of public and private school students in grades nine through 12.

Data derived from Gaylor EM, et al. MMWR Suppl. 2023;doi:10.15585/mmwr.su7201a6.

The researchers evaluated rates of reported suicidal ideation, suicide planning, suicide attempt and suicide attempt treatment during the last 12 months.

The percentage of girls reporting past-year suicidal ideation increased from 24.1% in 2019 to 30% in 2021. There were also increases in the percentage of girls who made a suicide plan (19.9% ​​vs. 23.6%) and attempted suicide (11% vs. 13.3%). The rate of attempted suicide that required medical attention remained relatively stable (3.3% vs. 3.9%).

On the other hand, the percentage of boys reporting suicidal ideation stayed about the same (13.3% vs. 14.3%), as did the percentage of boys who planned a suicide (11.3% vs. 11.6%), attempted suicide (both 6.6% ) and had a suicide attempt requiring medical attention (both 1.7%).

Subgroup analyzes revealed that compared with 2019 rates, Black, Hispanic and white girls were more likely to seriously consider suicide in 2021. Additionally, Hispanic and white girls were more likely to make a suicide plan in 2021 compared with 2019, and white girls were more likely to report a suicide attempt in 2021 compared with 2019.

Further sub-analyses indicated that students in lower grades, students who had a sexual identity other than heterosexual and students who had any sexual contact had greater odds of suicidality.

“Understanding the stable prevalence of suicidal thoughts and behaviors among males overall during a major infrastructure disruption (eg, during the COVID-19 pandemic) could yield insights into protective factors,” Gaylor and colleagues wrote. “A combination of risk and protective factors at the individual, relationship, community and societal levels likely contributes to the differences in suicidal thoughts and behaviors among sexual minority youths, different racial and ethnic groups and the differences observed by sex and grade. A comprehensive approach to suicide prevention, which reduces risk and supports youths at increased risk, provides support to those at risk and can ultimately save lives.”

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