Declining rates of youth suicide could be due to growing acceptance of gays
June 12 2004 12:00 AM ET
The rate of suicide among American youngsters and teens has dropped dramatically in the last decade, particularly with regard to firearms deaths, the government said Thursday. The suicide rate for those ages 10 to 19 fell by about a quarter, from 6.2 deaths per 100,000 people in 1992 to 4.6 per 100,000 in 2001, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. CDC researchers did not immediately know why the rate dropped, but one expert said issues concerning stigma over sexual orientation has played an important role in reducing teenage suicides. Charles Wibbelsman, chief of the Teenage Clinic of
Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics' committee on
adolescents, said the easing of the social stigma of being gay or lesbian may have played a role, as one in three male suicides are because of sexual orientation. "There are [TV] shows [concerning gays and lesbians] today that weren't on nine years ago," he said. "It's been much more out, and in that respect we've saved a lot more people's lives."
The CDC study also found, however, that hanging and other forms of suffocation--including use of belts, ropes, or plastic bags--are on the rise among American youngsters. These forms of suicide deaths have even overtaken firearms deaths among those ages 10 to 14, according to the CDC. CDC researchers were surprised by the switch in suicide methods and said they first noticed the trend in the early 1990s. By the end of the decade, suffocations had surpassed self-inflicted shootings. Health officials said they do not know why the change in methods occurred and whether it had anything to do with the use of trigger locks, lock boxes, and other measures for keeping guns out of youngsters' hands.