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‘Nobody talks about it’: Understanding the rise in youth suicide

VERIFY spoke with mental health experts and parents to get a better understanding of the many factors that contributed to the rise in youth suicide in the U.S.


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Published: 7:50 PM EDT July 21, 2022
Updated: 8:24 PM EDT July 21, 2022

Editor’s note: This story includes references to suicide and suicidal feelings. 

June 15, 2016, was the last day of school for students in Stafford County, Virginia. Tara Lowery, a mother of two, was organizing the classroom where she was a teacher’s assistant. Because it was an early release day for students, Tara asked her 16-year-old son Jake if he could pick up his little brother, 10-year-old Jesse, from school.

“Jake was a little angry that day because he had to sit in the office. I called a little while later…gave them time to get home. I called and asked, ‘Are you okay?’ He said, ‘Yeah. I’m fine, now.’ ‘Okay, as long as everything is okay.’ He said, ‘Yeah, I’m heating up some macaroni and cheese,’” Lowery said. 

Knowing that both of her sons were safe at home, Lowery continued to organize her classroom. 

“All of a sudden, the phone rang. It was Jesse, and he’s screaming in the phone. I said, ‘You’ve got to calm down. I cannot understand a word you’re saying. Take a breath.’ So, then he told me. He was hysterical. So, I was like, hang up and call 911. He did. And he followed their directions completely,” Lowery said. 

“Apparently, I threw my phone at one of my coworkers and told her to call my husband. I couldn’t even find his phone number or name in my phone. She’s like, ‘What do I tell him?’ ‘Tell him Jake killed himself.’ All I could do was scream. That’s all we could do. It was horrible. It was the worst day of my entire life,” Lowery said. 

Brad Hunstable, a husband, father, and the CEO of an electric motor design company in Fort Worth, Texas, also lost a child to suicide on April 17, 2020. 

“It’s hard to explain. It was a beautiful sunny day, but there was a storm all around me, and I wish it on nobody,” Hunstable said. “We were in the middle of the pandemic. The height and start of it. We weren’t letting our kids go outside. They had shut and locked down schools.” 

“I remember my wife and girls making fun of me about something, I can’t remember what it was, but I remember Hayden walked up to me and said, ‘I love you, Dad,’” Hunstable said. 

“I kissed him on the head, and I still remember to this day the feeling of his hair on my lips. I hugged him. It was a hard hug. I went to my office downstairs and took a phone call. My little daughter, who was 8 at the time, came downstairs and said Hayden [killed] himself. I ran upstairs and tried everything I knew,” Hunstable said. 

In 2020, there were more than 6,600 deaths by suicide among youth ages 10 to 24, according to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The youngest group, ages 10 to 14, saw an increase of 8% from 2019 to 2020, while those aged 15 to 24 saw a 2% increase.

Credit: VERIFY

While the youth suicide rate in the U.S. did increase in 2020, the pandemic did not mark the start of a new trend. In fact, a National Vital Statistics report from 2020 shows those rates have been on the rise for more than a decade, which Benjamin Shain, M.D., Ph.D., who serves as the head of child and adolescent psychiatry at NorthShore University HealthSystem, can attest to. 

“Mental health in youth has been deteriorating for a while. Definitely, before COVID….for probably for the last 10 years, with an increase in kids seeking services for common things like depression or anxiety, an increase in suicide attempts, and suicides. And this is true, again, even before the pandemic,” Shain told VERIFY.

From 2000 to 2007, the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) said the youth suicide rate in the U.S. stayed around a rate of 7 per 100,000 children. However, 2007 marked the beginning of a dramatic shift, according to a 2020 report published by the CDC’s National Vital Statistics System (NVSS), which tracked suicide rates among Americans aged 10 to 24 from 2000 to 2018.

Credit: VERIFY

The youth suicide rate increased by 57% — from 6.8 per 100,000 in 2007 to 10.7 in 2018. In 2019, the CDC ranked suicide as the second leading cause of death among youth, after accidental injuries. 

To get a better understanding of the many factors that have contributed to the rise in youth suicides in the U.S., the VERIFY team analyzed scientific studies and spoke with child psychiatrists, parents, and counselors. Together they address the rising rate of mental health disorders in youth, the impact of social media, the decreased access to mental health services, and the need for more conversations about the risk factors and warning signs of youth suicide. 


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