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Youth Homicides, Suicides At Modern High Points In Pandemic

The homicide rate for older U.S. teenagers rose to its highest point in nearly 25 years during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the suicide rate for adults in their early 20s was the worst in more than 50 years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday. The report examined the homicide and suicide rates among 10- to 24-year-olds from 2001 to 2021. The increase is alarming and “reflects a mental health crisis among young people and a need for a number of policy changes,” said Dr. Steven Woolf, a Virginia Commonwealth University researcher who studies U.S. death trends and wasn’t involved in the CDC report. Experts cited several possible reasons for the increases, including higher rates of depression, limited availability of mental health services, and the number of guns in U.S. homes, according to the Associated Press. Guns were used in 54% of suicides and 93% of homicides among the age group in 2021. “Picture a teenager sitting in their bedroom feeling desperate and making a decision, impulsively, to take their own life,” Woolf said. If they have access to a gun, “it’s game over.”

Suicide and homicide were the second and third leading causes of death for 10- to 24-year-olds, after a category of accidental deaths that includes motor vehicle crashes, falls, drownings, and overdoses. Other researchers have grouped the data by the method of death and concluded that guns are now the biggest killer of U.S. children. The report also found that suicide and homicide death rates remained far higher for older teenagers and young adults than they were for 10- to 14-year-olds. Homicide deaths became more common than suicide deaths among 15- to 19-year-olds, while suicide was more common in the younger and older age groups. While large increases were seen in homicide rates for young Black and Hispanic people in the U.S., there were no significant increases for their white counterparts, other CDC data shows. Dr. Madhukar Trivedi, a psychiatrist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, said the reasons may be hard to pinpoint, but that isolation during COVID-19 lockdowns could be a factor in the increase in deaths. “There is a misperception that if you talk to young people about depression, they’ll get depressed. A don’t-ask, don’t-tell policy for depression is not effective,” Trivedi said. “The earlier we can identify the ones who need help, the better chance we’ll have at saving lives.”


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