More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Girls, Young Women and Suicide: The Real Facts
By Devin Morrissey, Adios Barbie
May 19, 2018

This, yet another young American girl committed suicide. 14-year-old Gabby Cazares killed herself after being relentlessly bullied at her school. Suicide affects young people more than any other age group — as a leading cause of death, it is the third among 15 to 24-year-olds, and the second among 25 to 34-year-olds. What’s more, suicidal ideation is steadily rising. Transgender and gender non-conforming youth are at an even greater risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors than cisgender youth. A 2016 report from the Center for Collegiate Mental Health reported one-third of respondents saying they had seriously considered attempting suicide. This represented an almost 10 percent increase between 2011 and 2016. Of all demographics, young women have seen the largest rise in suicides. According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide rates doubled among teen girls from 2007 to 2015.

What’s Happening?
When reviewing suicide in young people, the number one question asked is “why?” As it turns out, they’re often in the same state of mind that influences older suicide victims — they feel hopeless and helpless, they feel they have no control over the situation they’re in, and they feel there is no solution but death.

But what causes these feelings in young women, especially tweens and teens?

One theory is the early onset of female puberty — something we’re seeing more and more as time goes on. Research has shown that the hormonal changes of puberty are linked to the formation of psychological disorders, specifically anxiety and depression. With these changes happening so early in a child’s brain development, they’re left psychologically unable to deal with their feelings and are vulnerable to bullying.

Though more awareness has been brought to bullying than ever before, it’s also become far more insidious than in previous generations. Social media has become a hotbed of bullying, allowing tormentors to traumatize their victims on a public stage and incite others to join in. A 2016 survey done by the Cyberbullying Research Center found that 34 percent of children between the ages of 12 and 17 report being cyberbullied in their lifetime. And, a study published in the the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics found that cyberbullying is more strongly related to suicidal ideation than traditional bullying.

But bullying isn’t the only thing that leads young girls to suicide. Sexual, physical, and emotional abuse have all been linked to suicidal ideation, whether directly or indirectly. Unfortunately, these abuses are horribly common, with sexual abuse alone affecting one in five girls. Another cause of childhood trauma is domestic violence — 5 million children witness domestic violence each year in the US. All of these traumas are incredibly damaging to a child’s psyche, often causing PTSD and significant psychological problems.

Other common factors that lead to suicide in young women include alcohol or substance abuse, experiencing a serious loss, or having a severe disabling or chronic illness.

Gender and Methods of Suicide
Years of statistics gathered on suicide have found that women are two to four times more likely to attempt suicide than men, though men are around three to four times more likely to die from suicide. This difference in fatality rate is attributed to the fact that men often use more lethal means to end their lives.

Men gravitate toward more violent methods of suicide, such as firearms, hanging, and asphyxiation. For women, the most prevalent method of suicide is poisoning (overdosing on medication or drugs), followed by firearms, then suffocation/hanging.

Some researchers have theorized that the difference in suicide methods may come down to two things: one, women are more likely to take others into consideration and might not want loved ones to find their remains in a distressing state, and two, men are more likely than women to be familiar with firearms, and consequently choose this method more often.

Awareness is the Answer
Regardless of the age, gender, or other demographic differences in suicide, everyone should be aware of the warning signs for suicide. By getting to know these warning signs inside and out, we can intervene more quickly when help is needed. Signs that someone may be suicidal can include:

  • Past attempts
  • Suicidal thoughts, plans, actions
  • Disturbed sleep patterns
  • Extremely self-hating thoughts
  • Feeling like they don’t belong
  • Feeling trapped
  • Feeling that they are a burden to others
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Anxiety, agitation, rage, and irritability
  • Hopelessness
  • Loss of interest in favorite activities
  • Giving up on themselves
  • Pulling away from friends and family
  • Risk-taking behavior
  • Giving away money or possessions
  • Sudden mood changes for the better
Though taking action when a loved one shows signs of suicidal thoughts can seem scary or intimidating, not doing so can have heartbreaking consequences. If you suspect someone may be suicidal, take the following steps:

  • Remove guns, knives, blades, and stockpiled pills from the immediate area.
  • Remain calm. Don’t argue, threaten, or raise your voice.
  • Talk openly and honestly; ask if they are having thoughts of suicide or have a plan for how they would kill themselves.
  • Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong.
  • If they are having hallucinations or delusions, be gentle and sympathetic. Do not argue whether the delusions or hallucinations are real or imagined.
  • Ask what you can do to help.
  • If they ask for something, provide it (as long as the request is safe and reasonable.)
If you think your loved one will hurt themselves or someone else, call 911 immediately.

Tweens, teens, and young adults are an increasingly vulnerable group when it comes to mental illness and suicidal ideation. Stigma or fear of asking for help often prevents them from getting the support they need — and that’s where parents, close family members, and friends come in. Have open conversations with your loved ones, especially if you’re concerned they are depressed or at risk for suicide. Encourage them to seek care when needed. Whatever you do, don’t minimize it or avoid it. In the end, you want them healthy, happy, and alive — do what it takes to get them there.

If you or someone you know has had thoughts of self harm or suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK, text “HOME” to the Crisis Text Line at 741741, or seek help from a professional.
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