Excerpt from the book “Need to Know: Teenage Suicide” by Claire Wallerstein

Today at least one per cent of all deaths around the world is from suicide. In 2000, around one million people died from suicide. That means one person killed themselves every 40 seconds. In the USA suicide kills twice as many people as AIDS. The suicide rate among adults has been rising quite slowly in most countries. But the picture is very different among the young, and especially among young men. The suicide rate among people aged 15 to 24 in most industrialised countries has tripled or even quadrupled since 1960.

This means youth suicide is now a major cause of concern for governments and doctors. Yet they are still far from understanding all of the reasons behind this massive increase. This is partly because many adults still find it hard to accept or understand that young people could want to kill themselves.

However, then there’s this…

In the USA, twelve young people kill themselves each day. One teenager in every three now knows someone who has attempted suicide. The picture in Canada is similar. It is even worse in Australia and New Zealand, where only traffic accidents cause more youth deaths.

And the figures may be even higher than we think. In some countries, such as the UK, coroners (the officials who carry out inquiries after deaths) can record a verdict of suicide only if suicide is proved “beyond all reasonable doubt”. This means that some car accidents involving only one vehicle are recorded as accidental deaths, but may actually be suicide. Similarly, some drug overdoses may be suicides.


In some surveys, around half of young people in Western countries say they suffer from loneliness and depression from time to time. Doctors do not fully understand why depression seems to be rising so fast, but point out that only a very few depressed people will actually kill themselves.

Although girls are still the most likely to attempt suicide, the rate of suicide is actually going up much faster among boys than girls. This is mainly because they use more violent methods. It may also be because many traditionally “male” jobs in farming, fishing or manufacturing have disappeared. This can make some boys feel hopeless about their future.

It can also be harder for boys to seek help than girls. They may bottle up their feelings and might turn to drink or drugs for comfort. In a 2001 survey by the Samaritans, 20 per cent of young people said they would laugh if a male friend told them he was depressed.