Explaining the Rise in Youth Suicide
Suicide rates among youths aged 15-24 have tripled in the past half-century, even as rates for adults and the elderly have declined. And for every youth suicide completion, there are nearly 400 suicide attempts. This paper examines the dynamics of youth suicide attempts and completions, and reaches three conclusions. First, we suggest that many suicide attempts by youths can be viewed as a strategic action on the part of the youth to resolve conflicts within oneself or with others. Youths have little direct economic or familial power, and in such a situation, self-injury can be used to signal distress or to encourage a response by others. Second, we present evidence for contagion effects. Youths who have a friend or family member who attempts or commits suicide are more likely to attempt or commit suicide themselves. Finally, we show that to the extent we can explain the rise in youth suicide over time, the most important explanatory variable is the increased share of youths living in homes with a divorced parent. The divorce rate is more important for suicides than either the share of children living with step-parents or the share of female-headed households.