June 26, 1987

Adolescent Suicide: Second Leading Death Cause

JAMA. 1987;257(24):3329-3330. doi:10.1001/jama.1987.03390240019005

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THE RATE OF recorded adolescent suicide has nearly tripled over the last several decades: from 4.5 per 10000015-to 24-year-olds in 1950 to 12.3 in 1980.

Suicide is now the second leading cause of death for adolescents and young adults (JAMA 1986;256:2060-2061). In 1980, for the first time, the median age of Americans killing themselves was less than 40 years.

Since 1980, however, the rate has begun to level off. Some epidemiologists suggest that it will fall into the mid1990s.

Although those who study suicide caution against citing any one cause for the rise, they point to possible factors such as the increase in alcohol and substance abuse, change in family structure, decline in church attendance, and uncertainty about the future (including the threat of nuclear war). A recent study, for example, found that the main psychiatric diagnosis for 53% of 133 consecutive young suicides in San Diego was substance abuse