A spike in suicides among teenage boys in the United States, reported Tuesday in JAMA, is the latest evidence of a public health crisis that continues to get worse.
The suicide rate for boys ages 15 to 19 jumped dramatically in 2017, reaching its highest point in a generation.
Although boys have historically had higher suicide rates than girls, a study in JAMA Network Open in May showed the gap has narrowed as suicide has increased among adolescent girls, especially 10- to 14-year-olds. That paper looked at the trends from 1975 through 2016. An accompanying editorial pointed to the possible role of social media, calling it “an urgent public health issue that merits further investigation.”
Today’s report, published as a research letter, includes data for 2017 — a year that saw an unprecedented escalation in a crisis that has been building for more than a decade. The analysis suggests that the underlying causes — and the urgent issues that demand investigation — may be different for boys than for girls, and perhaps have changed in recent years.
“We’re seeing something new among males,” said Oren Miron, the lead author and a research associate in biomedical informatics at Harvard Medical School.
In 2017, 5,016 boys and men and 1,225 girls and women ages 15 to 24 were reported to have killed themselves. Young adults (ages 20 to 24) committed suicide at a higher rate than adolescents, but the rates for adolescents showed a steeper, worrisome increase. Teenage boys committed suicide at the rate of 17.9 per 100,000, more than triple the rate of 5.4 per 100,000 for girls.