Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Girls And Suicide: Oh No!

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on March 6, 2015

Depression, Generic


“From 2007-2013, the rate for young females went from 2.2 to 3.4 per 100,000. That’s the highest since the 3.1 rate recorded in 1981, when such tracking began.”

These girls and young women, 10-24, are increasing their rate of suicide in the US. What to make of this pit in the stomach feeling of sadness and grief for these developing females and their families? No one knows, so we are left to speculation. They are choosing more lethal means, such that before they may have had an “unsuccessful” attempt, but now they are finishing the job, so to speak. I do not have any glib explanation, except to say that psychic pain is invisible until it is so visible that we squirm when we see it. Does this correspond to my chronic complaining about simplistic interventions for mental health care? Maybe, except that before there were simplistic interventions, there were more people getting no care, returning us to the question of whether bad care is better than no care? There is still a gender gap for suicide, but does this statistic represent a perverse desire for females to close that gap, to show that they can be as violent towards themselves as boys can be? I hope not. Is this a result of social media where there is a vulnerability for developing women to feel that are missing out, based on the images they see on their networking sites? What is the shock associated with these suicides? I wonder if there were any warning signs? As a child psychiatrist, I cannot help but feel that we are failing these girls and women. This data is a call to action. The question is what action? Screening tools?  Should we be empowering teachers to do mental health triage to identify children and adolescents at high risk? Are these foster children, such that more attention needs to be given to this population, a population we know is overmedicated, and is high risk for social ills? Psychiatrists should not stay silent, both to help these kids and to stay relevant. Suicide reminds us about why we do, what we do. We help people with psychic, and hence invisible pain. At the same time, we need to be visible to promote this work.


12 Responses to “Girls And Suicide: Oh No!”

  1. Reblogged this on living in stigma.

  2. Ashana M said

    Is that statistically significant? A 0.0012% change seems very slight.

  3. Eleanor said

    Shirah, my impression was also this is not a great change. Honestly, given our society these days….the modern pressures, not much time for kids to just “make up play on their own, too many adult demands for performance, keeping up with the Jonses….kids scheduled for 4 and 5 after school and weekend activities..many highly competitive and pressured…..I would expect the increase in stats to be more significant. What are your thoughts on this? In reality…this is what I see where I live but for very low income families things many be quiet different.

    • I think the intense pressures of high socioeconomic kids has a long tail into adulthood, but suicide is an extreme reaction to intense stress. It is hard to know cause and effect when looking at these statistics, so we are left to speculate. Thanks.

      • Eleanor said

        Thanks Shirah. At some point, I would like to see you do a blog post on modern excessive parental and societal pressures on growing children. I continue to be saddened at the fast and demanding direction society and expectations are going here ( ay least in the big city). For example, the president of one of the worlds largest and most respected medical institution proudly goes public announcing that his children have a “very structured life”, and since age 4 have been required to run a mile daily….among other structured activities. A physician friend of mine, also respected and successful, gives her children one choice for an after school activity…it must be their choice and the activity they are most interested in. Thus some free time for their own creativity. I would love to hear how these different child raising trends channel into adulthood. Know it’s more complex than I make it sound above, but this is something I would like to hear more about when it comes to mental health of children. Thanks.

        • Thank, Eleanor. I will give this some thought. The short answer is that it is not one size fits all. I am sure some kids benefit from the structure and high expectations, whereas other kids will have their creativity stifled and they will be harmed by such a rigid time schedule. The art of parenting is for the parent to have the flexibility to raise different kids differently, based on the needs of the child. Thanks again.

  4. Shelly said

    You write that there is a gender gap and that there is a perverse desire for females to close the gap and “…to show that they can be as violent towards themselves as boys can be.” Is there data that shows that females are using violent means for suicide like males (i.e. throwing themselves off of cliffs, in front of trains and cars, slashing their arms and throats–I imagine) in stead of less violent means like pills? Who are these girls who are killing themselves? Are they all in the foster system? Are they all under 20? Are they being bullied? Are they the social misfits in school? Are they the kind who would speak to therapists if given the chance? What makes you think that even given the chance in the system, they would speak to you? Girls in this age group are particularly difficult and really don’t want to show weakness. It’s like a pack of hyenas and showing weakness can get them thrown out to the wolves.

    • Yes, girls are using more violent means to kill themselves, and hence they are more “successful”. Yes, I do not know or understand the variables or the potential interventions which could impact these statistics, but I think these numbers should give us pause. Thanks.

  5. Debbie said

    Just found this page….wanted to comment… from a slightly different angle…..I would question whether PMDD is a possible cause of their inability to cope….toss that on top of the normal “growing-up” changes in this age group. My own 34yo daughter suffers terribly with diagnosed PMDD…..and in hindsight, I have to admit to chalking up what we now know as her PMDD related deep, black depressions and irrepressible rages to ordinary “teenage hormones” right from puberty.

    PMDD must be brought into the top of the list of possibilities. I don’t agree with PMDD being in the DSM-V as I believe that will lead to only treating symptoms instead of physical causes BUT at least it legitimizes a condition affecting millions of women and their families. Now to move onto research into the causes and finding solutions…..long-term rather than short-term chemically induced menopause …before resorting to hysterectomy and bilateral oophorectomy.

    These women cannot afford to wait for menopause to provide them with relief from the monthly hormonal changes that are destroying their lives….and this disorder starts at puberty, gradually becoming worse and worse.

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