Youth Suicide Current Trends and the Path to Prevention


Adolescence is a critical time in everyone’s development. It is a moment of remarkable opportunity and growth, as teens and young adults learn to make decisions, manage emotions, and create deeper connections with peers and their communities. They also build resilience and develop interests, passions, and meaningful goals that shape their adult lives. Young people’s developing brains are well suited to these tasks, but too often the systems that serve them are not.

This generation is growing up in an era of new and daunting challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic and its emotional and financial fallout, the reality of climate change, frequent and devastating mass shootings, race-based violence and constant exposure to images of it online, continual connection to social media and screens that can lead to or worsen isolation, a student debt crisis and large-scale systemic financial inequities, and a legislative push at the state level to reduce the rights of LGBTQIA+ youth and restrict discussion of the historic and current realities of racial discrimination.

In the face of these pressures, youth are doing everything they can to increase their resilience. They are talking about mental health more than any generation before them. They make use of mental health care when they have access to it. They find creative ways to connect despite spending less time with one another in person, and they work hard to create strong relationships and personal boundaries. They are disappointed by the world they see in front of them, and still, they stand up for themselves, their peers, and what they believe is right.

How We Put This Report Together

At JED, we keep a close eye on youth mental health and suicide data to inform our work — from strategic planning with schools to educational campaigns. At the same time, we frequently hear from advocates, elected officials, reporters, and others that this information is tough to find, difficult to wade through, and hard to interpret. We produced this report to provide a resource for those interested in learning more about trends in youth mental health and suicide prevention.

Our initial discussions focused on the most important national studies of youth mental health. These included CDC data sources, such as the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, the Adolescent Behaviors and Experiences Survey, and the National Violent Death Reporting System; the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health; The Trevor Project’s 2023 National Survey on the Mental Health of LGBTQ Young People; the Healthy Minds Network’s Healthy Minds Study; and the American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment. As we reviewed these studies, trends emerged related to mental health concerns and suicide rates in particular populations over time.

Contributing Factors Associated With Youth Suicide Risk

Suicide is a complex behavior that has multiple and varied contributing factors. Although there is no one single cause, certain experiences and traits can increase young people’s risk for suicide, including:

  • Genetic and other biological factors
  • Family characteristics and childhood experiences
  • Personality and cognitive traits
  • Having an existing mental health disorder

Some risk factors are byproducts of social determinants of health, such as:

  • Discrimination
  • Economic hardship
  • Limited affordable housing
  • Lack of educational opportunities
  • Barriers to accessing physical and mental health care

Two of the most intractable social determinants of health are structural racism and cumulative trauma. Structural racism is defined as “macro-level societal conditions that limit opportunities, resources, and well-being of less privileged groups on the basis of race/ethnicity.” Cumulative trauma arises from repeated negative experiences during childhood or over a lifetime, including adverse childhood experiences such as poverty or abuse, parental incarceration, and exposure to hate crimes and race-based violence and discrimination. There is increasing focus — especially by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health — to acknowledge and incorporate the effects of structural racism and discrimination into health research and interventions.


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