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Alarming surge in suicide attempts among young adults, study reveals

  • Suicide attempt rates increased 0.62% from 2012-2013, according to a study by Columbia University 
  • Young adults with lower levels of education are the most likely group to attempt suicide
  • The 2008 economic recession may be disproportionately affecting this group
  • Building community, and consistent engagement with those at risk may be best ways to help prevent suicide  

Suicide attempts among young adults between the ages of 21 and 34 have risen alarmingly, a new study warns.

Among people over 21, the rate of suicide attempts rose 21.5 percent, increasing 'significantly' from 2004 to 2013.  

Suicide attempts are up across the board in the US, but young adults with lower education levels are at especially high risk. 

Deaths from suicide are on the rise as well, but not as dramatically as suicide attempts. 

Researchers from Columbia University think that economic and career instability may be leading more young adults to attempt suicide than ever. 

A new Columbia University study finds that young men and women with lower levels of education are at the greatest risk of attempting suicide 

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Psychiatry, surveyed 69,341 adults over the age of 21 through face to face interviews about thoughts of attempts at suicide.  

'We've known that young adults are at higher risk of suicide attempts, but completion rates are lower,' said Dr Mark Olfson, the study's lead author, 'but the trends are new.' 

He says that 'the recession may have hit this group especially hard,' as factors like lower family incomes and education levels cause 'psychological distress' and increase the likelihood that a young adult will attempt suicide.

'These are our millennials, who struggle with "transitional-based issues"' when joining (or trying to join) the work force,' says Paul Lavella Jr, a licensed counselor and director of alumni services for Summit Behavioral Health.

Titania Jordan of Bark.us says parents should pay particular attention to these signs that a teen may be suicidal: 

  • Grades dropping
  • Depression or suicidal emotions expressed online via social media, email, text messages, and even emojis.
  • Change in eating habits
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and things that they used to really enjoy
  • Suddenly getting into trouble
  • Mood swings
  • Loss of energy
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Texts and social media posts
  • Substance abuse

Millennials also connect to the world in a different way from previous generations, through social media and the internet. They have 'connectedness through tech, but when comes to community, deep meaning relationships, they have less of that,' Lavella says. 

Withdrawal and isolation are often indicators of suicidal thoughts, says Lavella, and the connecting with social groups online rather than in person can make it easier for young people to isolate themselves, without friends and family noticing. 

Suicide is now less stigmatized, so Dr Olfson is hopeful that young adults are more willing to report attempts and suicidal thoughts. 

But this study comes after another found that Google searches for 'how to commit suicide' spiked immediately following the the release of the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, leading to accusations that the show 'glamorized' suicide. 

This new Columbia study shows that the rate of suicide attempts among young people is going up more quickly than the rate of suicide deaths in the same group, which could reflect some of that 'glamorization.' 

Social media and technology can also provide a 'new opportunity' for healthcare professionals to care for their patients between appointments, Lavella says. 

Lavella says that in his work at Summit, he encourages healthcare professionals to stay engaged with patients even after treatment as an important way to make sure they're still thriving and feel connected.

Titania Jordan is chief parent officer Bark.us, an app that helps parents monitor their children's online activities for worrisome behavior. She notes that the internet is a 'popular' forum for young people to talk about suicide, especially to one another, but that 'demographic [that] is not always best-suited to handle that kind of emotion in a mature and responsible way.'

She advises that parents talk early and often to their kids about risk factors and signs of suicide, a sensitive subject that can't be ignored. 

'While your child may not be the suicidal one, it’s very possible they have a friend relying on them for support who is suicidal,' she adds. 

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