The share of high school students who experienced what is known as “suicidality”—which includes suicidal thoughts, plans, and attempts—increased from 2011 to 2021, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Separately, the CDC also found that after a brief two-year decline in 2019 and 2020, the total number of suicide deaths increased in 2021, especially among people of color. Together, these findings are consistent with evidence of an ongoing mental health and suicide crisis, especially among adolescents and young adults, and they underscore the need for continued efforts to address this public health issue.
Overall, 22% of high school students in the recent survey said that they had seriously considered suicide within the past year, up from 16% in 2011. Eighteen percent said that they had made a suicide plan, and 10% said they attempted suicide at least once, compared with 13% and 8%, respectively, 10 years earlier. All demographic groups across race, ethnicity, and sex experienced increases in suicide risk since 2011, but certain groups faced greater risk than others:
- Female students continue to be at higher risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors than their male counterparts. Three in 10 females (30%) said that they seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, and nearly a quarter (24%) had made a suicide plan. This represents a 60% increase in both measures over the past decade. During the same period, suicide attempts by female students increased by 30%.
- Black students were more likely to attempt suicide than their Asian, Hispanic, or White peers.
- A higher percentage of what the CDC categorizes as American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) students experienced suicidality in 2021 than all other races and ethnicities. This finding is consistent with evidence that suicide rates are highest for AI/AN people across all age groups, compared with other racial or ethnic groups.
- LGBQ+ teens in 2021 were three times more likely to consider suicide than their heterosexual peers. They were also more likely to make suicide plans and attempts.
- Nearly 6 in 10 students (58%) in 2021 who had any same-sex partners considered suicide, compared with 26% of students who only had opposite-sex partners. Those who had any same-sex partners were also more likely to make suicide plans and attempts than those who only had opposite-sex partners.
Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the U.S., with more than 48,000 people of all ages dying by suicide in 2021; millions more thought about, planned, or attempted suicide. People 10-24 years old account for 14% of all suicides—surpassing 6,500 deaths each year, which makes suicide the third leading cause of death for this age group. Studies have shown that more than half of people who die by suicide visit a health care provider within four weeks of their death, giving providers an opportunity to identify suicide risk in patients they interact with and a chance to connect them to potentially life-saving care.
To specifically address the suicide crisis among young people, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued recommendations in 2022 for pediatric health providers to screen everyone ages 12 and older for suicide risk at least once a year. Identifying individuals at risk for suicide is the first step to preventing suicides, and screening all patients regardless of whether they have a behavioral health concern or a diagnosis—a practice known as universal suicide risk screening—has been shown to effectively identify suicide risk in health settings for both pediatric and adult populations.
Farzana Akkas works on The Pew Charitable Trusts’ suicide risk reduction project.