Dimensions of the Problem


    To provide a better understanding of youth suicide, educational efforts should include material about the nature and dimensions of the problem. Programs which incorporate information about methods used by young people, data on deaths and attempts, and the impact of death by suicide will improve awareness and understanding in the community.

    Methods Used

    Risk of completed suicide is related to the potential lethality of the means used. The most commonly used methods make rescue unlikely or impossible. Guns are frequently used and are potentially the most lethal method. Wrist cutting and drugs are among the least lethal. The list of most common methods used in suicides by youth under the age of 25 is: guns and explosives; hanging and strangulation; ingestion of poisons; poisoning by gasses; drugs; jumping from heights. (Garfinkel & Northrup, 1989)

    Death Statistics

    The National Institute of Mental Health reports that suicide was the third leading cause of death among people 15 to 24 years of age in 1995. In the United States there were 1,890 deaths among adolescents aged 15 to 19. For young people between the ages of 20 and 24, the suicide rate was 16.2/100,000, or 2,894 deaths. The rate of suicide for all ages was 11.13/100,000, or 31,284 total deaths. Suicide was the ninth leading cause of death in the United States in 1995. (NIMH, 1998)


    The frequency of attempted suicide, as well as completed suicide, is increasing. An estimated two million 15- to 24-year-olds make a suicide attempt each year. Suicidal gestures cannot be trivialized merely because they occur frequently. Those who have made previous attempts have an increased risk of completing suicide. Gould, Shaffer, Fishman and Davies (1990, 1992, as cited in Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry, 1996) report that increased rates of previous attempts have been found among completed suicides.


    In addition to awareness of the nature and extent of suicide, the impact of suicide on the family and community needs to be understood. Suicide touches the lives of many Americans each year. It is especially difficult to accept when the person who dies is young. Families can be torn apart by the guilt and blame that can follow a suicide. Marcus (1996, p. 156) states that "there are statistics and studies showing that those who are left behind are at greater risk of suicide, especially the family members and children of someone who has committed suicide." The nature of suicide needs to be better understood by the public so the impact may be reduced.

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