Preventing Suicide Among Young Adults: Statistics and StrategiesReading Time: 6 minutes
New mental health research shows that young adults are suffering right now more than any other age group. In fact, an increased risk of suicide among young adults is one of the most troubling effects of the pandemic.
According to a CDC survey in June, 25.5 percent of adults ages 18–24 seriously considered suicide in the last 30 days. Many more are experiencing adverse mental health symptoms, including trauma-related disorders associated with COVID-19.
These suicide statistics for young adults create an even greater urgency around National Suicide Awareness Prevention Month in September. The month includes Suicide Prevention Week beginning September 6 and World Suicide Prevention Dayon September 10.
New Suicide Statistics for Young Adults
Most significantly, the CDC survey found a significant uptick in suicidal ideation—thinking about the idea of suicide and ways to commit suicide. Suicidal thoughts are typically catalyzed by an increase in depression and anxiety. Symptoms of both have been skyrocketing in young adults since the beginning of the pandemic. Factors contributing to this rise include the following COVID-related issues:
- Social isolation
- Anxiety about the future
- Having to return to their childhood home due to losing a job, inability to find a job after graduation, or college going remote
- Economic stressors
- Lack of faith in the nation’s leaders
- Concerns about social injustice and inequity following the uprisings in the spring.
Conducted June 24–30, the CDC survey found the following depression and suicide statistics for young adults ages 18–24:
- 62 percent reported anxiety disorder or depressive disorder symptoms
- 46 percent had COVID-related trauma- or stressor-related disorders
- 28 percent started or increased substance abuse as a way to cope with pandemic-related stress and emotions
- 75 percent experienced at least one mental or behavioral health symptom.
While it’s too soon to tell whether suicide rates are already spiking as a result of the pandemic, experts warn that the risks are increasing. According to a recent study in the Lancet on suicide risk and prevention during the pandemic note that suicides went up during the 1918 Spanish flu and 2003 SARS outbreaks, as well as after the 2008 recession.
Know the Facts
According to the CDC June 2020 Report, 1 in 4 young adults ages 18–24 are seriously considering suicide as a result of pandemic-related trauma and stress.
TWLOHA and Newport Partner to Help Prevent Suicide Among Young Adults
For the fourth year in a row, Newport is partnering with To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) to rally supporters across the country and the globe this September to take action to reverse the rising rate of suicide among young adults and teens. TWLOHA is a nonprofit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. The TWLOHA mission statement includes the commitment “to encourage, inform, inspire, and invest directly into treatment and recovery.”
The theme of the TWLOHA’s 2020 suicide awareness campaign, “Worth Living For,” was inspired by the conviction that together, we can remind ourselves and each other that there is so much to live for, even in challenging times. Last year’s TWLOHA campaign, “You Make Today Better,” reached more than 9.5 million people and raised $250,000 to support treatment and recovery.
This year has been hard for so many people—disruption and disconnection, uncertainty and changes have become a part of our everyday lives. We know that people need other people and that connection is important not just as humans, but to our mental health as well. We want this year’s campaign to focus on the things that bring us hope, the things that are worth living for— both collectively and personally. We believe that having this conversation and connecting those struggling to mental health resources can be life-saving.
TWLOHA Co-Executive Director
Studies Show Increase in Young Adult Suicide Rates
Even before the pandemic, suicide among young adults was on the rise. According to a 2019 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the suicide rate for ages 20–24 increased in 2017 to its highest point since 2000. In 2017, the suicide rate for this age group was 17 per 100,000. Furthermore, over those two decades, researchers found a 71 percent increase in serious psychological distress among ages 18–25.
Researchers theorize that a variety of factors are contributing to this dramatic rise. These include social media overuse, cyberbullying, poor sleep habits in adolescents, and a decline in the amount of time this age group spends face-to-face with friends. And while mental health problems are rising, access to care is extremely limited. In fact, Mental Health America’s 2020 report shows that 57 percent of adults with a mental illness do not receive any mental health treatment at all.
Risk Factors for Suicide Among Young Adults
Beyond the current COVID-related issues, other factors can contribute to the risk of young adult suicide. Risk factors do not cause suicide, but they may contribute to a person’s likelihood of making a suicide attempt. The top reasons for suicide among young adults include the following:
- Depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders
- Family history of suicide
- A history of substance abuse
- Exposure to violence, abuse, or other trauma, either chronic or acute
- Social isolation, which has increased significantly during the pandemic
- Losing a family member through death or divorce
- Financial or job loss
- Conflict within relationships
- Starting or changing psychotropic medications
- Feeling stigmatized
- Lack of a support system.
Suicide Warning Signs and How to Take Action
In order to recognize whether a young adult is considering a suicide attempt, it’s important to be familiar with the red flags. Here are some of the warning signs of depression and suicidal ideation.
- Talking or posting on social media about suicide or wanting to die
- Sharing that they are feeling a sense of hopelessness or being trapped
- Increasing use of drugs and/or alcohol
- Losing or gaining weight; changes in eating habits
- Extreme changes in sleep habits; insomnia or sleeping too much
- Gathering drugs, sharp objects, firearms, or other items that could be used to commit suicide or self-harm
- Withdrawing from friends and family members
- Doing online searches for methods of committing suicide
- Visiting or calling people to say goodbye, and giving away possessions they care about
- Trouble concentrating at work and/or a drop in academic performance
- Unexplained physical issues such as headaches and stomachaches
- Risk-taking or self-destructive behavior
- Suddenly becoming calm or cheerful after a long period of being depressed and sad.
If you see any of these signs, take the following actions:
- Do not leave the person alone.
- Remove anything that could be used in a suicide attempt, including ﬁrearms, alcohol, drugs, razors, or other sharp objects.
- Call the US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
- Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional.
Source: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
In addition, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline runs a network of suicide hotline crisis centers. Moreover, they provide information about taking suicide precautions.
Treatment for Young Adult Depression and Anxiety
To address young adult depression and anxiety and therefore prevent suicide, comprehensive assessment and treatment is critical. The integrated approach to care utilized at Newport Institute includes the following evidence-based modalities:
- Family therapy to help young adults heal childhood trauma and/or family ruptures while establishing autonomy and making connections outside the family
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to identify self-defeating thoughts and assumptions that make life more difficult
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), which provides specific skills like mindfulness and emotional regulation, which can be used right away and become stronger with practice.
- Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET) to support transformation and healing by resolving any initial resistance young adults may have to treatment
- Creative arts therapy, such as art therapy and music therapy, give young adults ways to process their emotions through self-expression
- Adventure therapy, supporting young adults to build trust, mastery, and collaboration skills
- Yoga and mindfulness to promote self-awareness and help bring young adults into the present moment
- Positive coping skills, such as using the breath and reframing negative thinking.
In summary, understanding the causes, warning signs, and risk factors for suicide among young adults can help prevent tragic loss of life. As TWLOHA’s Worth Living For campaign emphasizes, life offers so many possibilities for connection and fulfillment. With the support of loved ones and with access to the mental healthcare they need, emerging adults can look forward to a hopeful future.
We are honored to partner with TWLOHA again this year and proud of all that they have achieved to help countless people find what is worth living for. Too many people are struggling with thoughts of hopelessness and despair right now; we must raise awareness that there is help, that there are so many people who care. I am living proof that even when you feel you are at your lowest, there is still hope, there are reasons for living, and your story does not need to end here.
Newport’s Executive Chairman