There is a strange disconnect among findings that came out a few weeks ago from the Centers for Disease Control, and I think it is one worth examining.
In the early months of 2021, visits to emergency departments for suspected suicide attempts increased roughly 50 percent for adolescent girls compared with the same period in 2019, according to a report released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The same article makes a few other very salient points:
- Suicide attempts began to rise in May 2020.
- Suicide attempts among girls rose 50.6% compared to the prior year, but a mere 3.7% among boys.
- Similar increases were NOT observed amongst men and women, aged 18-25.
There’s a lot of places to look at this, and the gender differentiation is genuinely fascinating. What on earth could cause such a difference in terms of the differences between men and women?
That being said, there’s a different question I want to ask: How is it possible that ATTEMPTS rose so much, but suicide deaths declined? As I wrote about previously – and has been written about by people much smarter than me – preliminary data indicates that suicides declined by 5.6% during the same time period that suicide visits among this demographic increased so dramatically. How can this be?
There are, of course, many possible answers.
First, the data released by the CDC is preliminary. There isn’t a breakdown of completed suicides by demographics. This means that it is very possible that suicide attempts – and completed suicides – rose among the demographic we are discussing, but that they declined enough in other demographics to offset this rise. It’s also possible that the suicide attempts were less serious attempts that were less likely to result in death. Typically, women are more likely to survive a suicide attempt, as they tend to use less lethal means. It is also worth noting that women are three times more likely to attempt suicide than men, but men are 3-5 times more likely to die of suicide than women.
The one thing that the report does make clear – and that is unquestionably true – is that this could have major public health implications and implications for parents. Young women seem to be in a more fragile state of mental health than their male counterparts, and it is incumbent upon us to ensure that we are taking the steps necessary to protect their mental health.
I’d also go one step further: What are the health implications for the poor young women who wound up in a hospital? What health risks do they face? What ongoing care do they need at home, and at school? What questions do we need to answer?
Regardless, this is something that is unquestionably worth monitoring in the future.