By Jenna Mink
She started cutting herself in the eighth grade. And then Hannah List started thinking of ways to kill herself.”The thoughts came. (I’d) be lying in bed and thinking about it,” said List, 16, from Celina, Ohio.
But during her frehsman year of high school, Hannah’s friend, Natalie, beat her to it.
“It was very shocking, and it hurt more than I ever expected,” she said. “When you’re suicidal, you think nobody cares. After seeing the effect (Natalie’s death) had on so many people, it made me want to live.”
Suicide rates among young females have spiked in recent years, according to a report from the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
Between 2003 and 2004, the number 10 to14-year-olds who killed themselves increased by nearly 76 percent and the number for 15 to 19-year-olds’ suicide rose a little more than 32 percent.
More 10 to 14-year-old girls committed suicide in 2004 than any other year since 1990. The 2004 suicide numbers tied 1994’s numbers for the highest suicide rate in 14 years. The most recent suicide rate for 15 to 19-year-old females (3.52 percent) is the fourth highest since 1990, according to the CDC report.
But some experts say escalation in the number of girls who kill themselves is no coincidence.
The way girls deal with problems could contribute to the boost in female suicides, said Dan Florell, psychology professor at Eastern.
Girls tend to internalize their problems while boys are more external. And, especially from the ages of 10 to 14, girls are dealing with body changes and comparing themselves to pop icons they see in magazines or on TV. And, because their bodies do not mirror Britney Spears’ physique, some spiral into feelings of worthlessness, he said.
And added peer pressure might result in more suicidal thoughts among teenage girls.
“(Those ages) seem to be the peak gossip, clique part of life,” he said.
But changes in suicide methods might also cause the death increase among girls. Natalie killed herself by starting her mother’s car inside the garage and sitting inside the vehicle for hours. She died of carbon monoxide poisoning, List said.
While more girls poisoned themselves in 2004 than years before, most young females hanged or suffocated themselves in 2004. The number of 10 to 14-year-olds who hanged or suffocated more than doubled from 2003 to 2004. About 50 more 15 to 19-year-olds killed themselves in 2004 than the year before, according to the CDC.
And hanging oneself can be more effective than other, more popular methods, such as pill overdoses, according to reports in “Abnormal Psychology.”
Still, guns are one of the most effective ways to commit suicide. While the number of girls who shot themselves decreased from 2003 to 2004, 15 to 19-year-olds tended to use guns more in 2004 than in 2003, the CDC reported.
“When you pull a trigger, that’s not as reversible as when you overdose on pills,” Florell said. But, while females attempt suicide more often than males, boys successfully kill themselves more often than girls. In 2004, 355 girls aged 15 to 19 killed themselves, while 1,345 boys the same age committed suicide. And the biggest reason is the way they kill themselves.
Studies show, when attempting suicide, boys use more lethal methods such as stabbing, hanginag and shooting, according to “Abnormal Psychology.”
Boys likely feel more pressure to carry out an attempt, Florell said.
“It’s the more macho thing,” he said. “Men have the expectation of you say you’re going to do it, so I’m going to do it.”
And boys care less about how their body looks after the suicide. “Women like to leave pretty corpses,” Florell said.
But while boys kill themselves more often than girls, the number of young females who killed themselves increased more than the number of boys who committed suicide. In the 15 to 19-year-old category, girls’ suicide rate rose 22.7 percent more than the boys’ rate.
Still, the overall suicide percentage for 10 to 24 year olds increased 8 percent from 2003 to 2004, which is the largest single-year increase since 1990, according to the CDC.
In 2004, suicide was the third leading cause of death among 10 to 24 year olds. About 4,600 youths and young adults killed themselves.
The overall spike in youth suicides might be the result of technology advancements. One contributor to suicidal thoughts is lack of human interaction and communicating through the Internet and cell phones is more impersonal than talking to someone face-to-face, Florell said.
“Even though they’re better connected, they feel a little more alienated,” he said. “.when you’re with a person, there’s an impudence to talk longer.”
And, the popularization of a certain game might lead to more accidental suicides. Some youths play “the choking game.” They intentionally cut off oxygen flow to the brain, usually by tightening a a rope, belt or chord around their necks, according to the CDC.
People play the choking game to experience a drug-free high from the initial lack of oxygen and then a blood flow rush to the brain, according to the Weller Center Web site, www.wellercenter.org. Fatalities that result from the game likely are misclassified as suicides. But the choking-game deaths are more common among boys and probably are not a dominant factor in the hanging and suffocation increase among girls, the CDC said.
But while suicide rates among traditional college-aged people increased, fewer college students kill themselves than other adolescents. Suicide numbers among non-college students are about double the numbers among college students, said Jen Walker, director of the counseling center at Eastern. About 15 out of 100,000 non-college students commit suicide and 7.5 out of 100,000 of their college-student counterparts commit suicide, she said.
Walker said the counseling center does not keep numbers of how many suicidal students seek help at Eastern, but the counselors have talked with students who experience suicidal thoughts.
College students might be less likely to commit suicide because they have a bigger support system than others. Students are able to form relationships with professors, resident hall assistants or advisers in student organizations, Walker said.
Students are also more physically active, even if it’s just walking to classes. And they have less accessibility to guns on campus, Walker said.
“Usually, if they’re making a decision about their lives, and there’s a gun accessible to them, it’s a much higher-risk situation,” she said.
Also, students are surrounded by more people on campus, and talking to others is vital in battling depression.
If someone confides he or she is contemplating suicide, the confidant should immediately contact someone, even if it means breaking a promise, Florell said.
“You would rather have a friend mad at you and alive,” he said. Hannah List said she did not know Natalie was suicidal. And, while Natalie’s death influenced Hannah to seek help from her youth group leaders, she said her friend’s suicide was hard to handle.
“Your mouth hangs open,” she said. “And you just have to replay it in your head.