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US Suicide Rates for Young Girls, Boys Up


The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released alarming statistics that show the suicide rate for American children and teenagers was up between 2003 to 2004. That is the most recent period of death records compiled in the United States. The CDC says the rate among young girls that year was especially high. VOA's Melinda Smith reports.

Suicide is the third-leading cause of death for young Americans ages 10 to 24.

When Ryan Yorke was 14 years old, his doctor prescribed an antidepressant. When it failed to help, he tried suicide. "I didn't care about school, family, friends. I didn't care what happened to me."

Mary Ellen Whitter's daughter Beth did commit suicide. She describes the horrific scene. "I arrived home from work and walked up my stairs. I saw my beautiful daughter hanging from the staircase."

Both teenagers became part of the grim statistics compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the decade of the 1990s, suicide rates had declined for young Americans 10 to 24 years old. But in the words of a high-ranking CDC official, there was a "dramatic and huge increase" in suicides in the period between 2003 and 2004. Government officials say the overall rate among young people rose by eight percent. It was the largest rise in 15 years.

While teenage boys showed a nine percent increase in the rate of suicide, the numbers for girls were more alarming: a 75 percent increase among girls 10 to 14 years old and a 32 percent increase among girls 15 to 19.

What happened to these girls? Psychologist Alan Berman of the American Association of Suicidology in Washington, D.C. says while more boys have suicidal tendencies than girls -- that may be changing. "One of the downsides is that as women become more like men, they're going to take on some of the downsides of men. They will become more violent. They will use alcohol more. They will take on some of the vices of power and status and that may be what's happening."

Despite the increase in the suicide rate for girls, Berman says actual numbers are still too small to forecast a trend.

The CDC says more research is needed before conclusions can be reached. But there is already agreement among experts that government warnings about the risk of suicide -- printed on the side of antidepressant medications -- have prompted many doctors to cut back on prescribing them to young people. Prior to 2004, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had led the debate on the need for such a warning. The mandated change in labeling was issued the same year as the CDC statistics on youth suicides.

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