Suicide rates among youths during COVID-19

Article

In a recent study, rates of suicide during the COVID-19 pandemic were higher among youths aged 5 to 24 years than expected based on trends prior to the pandemic.

Youth suicide deaths increased in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a recent study published to Pediatrics.

Suicide has been recorded as the leading cause of death in youths aged 5 to 24 years in the United States. During the COVID-19 pandemic, rates of anxiety, depression, isolation, and decreased social support worsened, suggesting an increase in associated suicide rates.

Studies early in the pandemic showed a stable or slightly decreased suicide rate, but this might have changed later in the pandemic. Additionally, suicide deaths may differ based on race and ethnicity, as some studies have suggested increased suicide deaths among non-White individuals.

To compare suicide deaths within the first 10 months of the COVID-19 pandemic with those prior to the pandemic, investigators conducted a national study obtaining data from Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Web-based Wide-Ranging Online Data for Epidemiologic Research.

Monthly data was gathered on suicide deaths from March 1, 2020, to December 31, 2020. By analyzing suicide deaths before COVID-19, investigators were also able to calculate the expected suicide deaths had the pandemic not occurred. 

As the World Health Organization declared the pandemic on March 11, 2020, March 2020 was considered the start of the pandemic. Expected and occurred suicided were compared through rate ratios (RRs) and confidence intervals (CIs).

During the first 10 months of COVID, 79.2% of youth suicide deaths were male, 18.1% Hispanic, 14.4% non-Hispanic Black, and 59.6% non-Hispanic White. Observed suicide deaths saw an increase compared to expected suicide deaths, with an RR of 1.04 and a CI of 1.01 to 1.07. Investigators estimated 212 excess suicide deaths during the pandemic in 2020.

Groups experiencing greater youth suicide deaths included those aged 5 to 12 years, those aged 19 to 24 years, non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaska Native individuals, non-Hispanic Black individuals, and males.

Firearm was the most common method of suicide at 51.1%, with suicide deaths by firearm also higher than the expected rate. Overall, the number of youth suicide deaths was higher than expected in July, August, September, and October. This indicates an increase in youth suicide deaths overall in the United States during the first 10 months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reference

Bridge JA, Ruch DA, Sheftall AH, et al. Youth suicide during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Pediatrics. 2023. doi:10.1542/peds.2022-058375

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