The suicide rate for kids ages 10-14 nearly tripled in the past decade. Why? And what can we do?

I was 10 when my uncle Doug took his own life. I remember my mom getting the phone call and watching her slump down the kitchen wall, hand over her mouth. I remember her having to tell my dad to come home from work so she could tell him that his beloved baby brother had hung himself.

Doug had lived with us for a while. He was kind, gentle, and funny. He was only 24 when he died.

My uncle was so young—too young—but not as young as some who end their lives. Youth suicide in the U.S. is on the rise, and the numbers—and ages—are staggering.


According to the CDC, the number of 10 to 14 year-olds who took their own lives nearly tripled from 2007 to 2017. In the U.S., suicide is the second leading cause of death among children and adolescents ages 10-24, and the third leading cause of death among 12-year-olds. In at least one state, Ohio, suicide has become the leading cause of death for kids ages 10 to 14.

It seems unfathomable that so many kids so young could want to end their own lives, much less actually do so, but that's the reality we're facing. Parents, caregivers and educators have to watch for red flags far earlier than most of us would ever imagine.

RELATED: Netflix cuts controversial suicide scene in '13 Reasons Why' more than two years later.

So what is behind this uptick? Why are more kids today dying by suicide than in recent generations?

An increase in mental illness is playing a big role. The vast majority of people who attempt to take their own life are struggling with a mental illness, such as clinical depression. And according to a study from the American Psychological Association published in March of 2019, certain types of mental illness have dramatically increased among young people—and only among young people—in the past decade.

"More U.S. adolescents and young adults in the late 2010s, versus the mid-2000s, experienced serious psychological distress, major depression or suicidal thoughts, and more attempted suicide," said Jean Twenge, PhD, lead study author and professor of psychology at San Diego State University. "These trends are weak or non-existent among adults 26 years and over, suggesting a generational shift in mood disorders instead of an overall increase across all ages."

Twenge believes that relatively sudden cultural shifts in the way kids spend their leisure time may be behind the spike in mental illness. "Cultural trends in the last 10 years may have had a larger effect on mood disorders and suicide-related outcomes among younger generations compared with older generations," she said. "These results suggest a need for more research to understand how digital communication versus face-to-face social interaction influences mood disorders and suicide-related outcomes and to develop specialized interventions for younger age groups."

So what can the average American do about this trend? How can we help?

Experts point to multiple avenues for helping prevent, identify, and treat mental illness that can lead to suicidal thoughts, as well as ways to make suicide attempts less likely.

- Encourage basic health maintenance

The first thing our daughter's therapist told us was that therapy for her anxiety wouldn't be nearly as effective without the basics of good sleep, nutrition, and exercise. While none of those things are cures or treatments in and of themselves, inadequate sleep, poor dietary habits, and lack of exercise can all affect mood, sometimes in dramatic ways, making mental health struggles worse. Encouraging healthy habits in our kids creates a foundation for better health overall, including mental health.

- Help kids be conscious of how digital media can affect them

Dr. Twenge emphasized how the ubiquitous screens in kids' lives can impact the healthy habits mentioned above, as well as healthy social interactions:

"First and most important is to get enough sleep. Make sure your device use doesn't interfere with sleep—don't keep phones or tablets in the bedroom at night, and put devices down within an hour of bedtime. Overall, make sure digital media use doesn't interfere with activities more beneficial to mental health such as face-to-face social interaction, exercise and sleep."

The pressures of social media and the potential for bullying and social isolation that goes along with them can also certainly play a role in a child's mental health. We have to be aware of how the online world impacts kids, be wise about when and how we introduce electronics, and help them navigate the digital landscape as they go.

- Be aware of risk factors and watch for warning signs

Boston Children's Hospital offers parents and caregivers a list of factors that put kids at risk for suicide as well as warning signs to look for:

Risk Factors:

  • Mental illness/psychiatric diagnosis
  • Family history of suicide and/or exposure to suicide Family history of mental illness
  • Physical/sexual abuse
  • Losses
  • Aggressive behavior/impulsivity
  • Lack of social support/social isolation
  • Poor coping skills
  • Access to ways of harming oneself, like guns, knives, etc.
  • Difficulties in dealing with sexual orientation
  • Physical illness
  • Family disruptions (divorce or problems with the law)
  • Traumatic event

Warning Signs:

  • Preoccupation with death (e.g., recurring themes of death or self-destruction in artwork or written assignments)
  • Intense sadness and/or hopelessness
  • Not caring about activities that used to matter
  • Social withdrawal from family, friends, sports, social activities
  • Substance abuse
  • Sleep disturbance (either not sleeping or staying awake all night)
  • Giving away possessions
  • Risky behavior
  • Lack of energy
  • Inability to think clearly/concentration problems
  • Declining school performance/increased absences from school
  • Increased irritability
  • Changes in appetite

- Get professional help early

If your child does seem to be exhibiting signs of depression or suicidal thoughts, don't hesitate to get help. It's easy for parents to think that a kid is just going through a phase or that it isn't really "that bad," but there's no harm in seeing a therapist even if you're not sure it's necessary. At worst, mental health professionals can help your child learn about how their brain works and give them tools to manage their thoughts and emotions. At best, early intervention may save a child's life.

RELATED: A huge thanks to those who openly share their mental illnesses. You saved my daughter.

- Talk openly about suicide and suicidal thoughts

Research shows that asking someone if they are feeling suicidal does not lead them to suicidal thoughts. Asking a child who seems depressed if they have thought about wanting to die or wanting to end their life is an important question that may help a child verbalize thoughts they've been afraid to share. Boston Children's Hospital recommends using clear, straight-forward language, such as "I'm worried about you. Have you been having thoughts about wanting to die or killing yourself?" It may be uncomfortable to bring up, but making it a topic of conversation conveys the message that it's okay to talk about it.

- Smash the stigma of mental illness

Many kids hide their true feelings because of the negative stigma surrounding mental and emotional struggles. Talking openly and matter-of-factly about mental illness is an important part of breaking the stigma. No one should feel ashamed or embarrassed to be struggling with their thoughts and emotions, any more than people should feel ashamed or embarrassed to struggle with physical illness. It's important for kids to know that they aren't alone, that these issues are common, that it's not their fault, and that there are ways to treat and manage them. Talking about a therapy appointment should be as normal as mentioning a physical check-up.

- Keep guns out of kids' reach

While there are multiple methods for suicide, firearms are by far the most immediate and lethal. Since access to weapons is a risk factor for suicide, how they are stored in the home makes a huge difference.

As the Harvard School of Public Health notes:

An NVISS study of firearm suicides among youths ages 17 and under occurring over a two-year period in four states and two counties found that 82% used a firearm belonging to a family member, usually a parent. When storage status was noted, about two-thirds of the firearms had been stored unlocked. Among the remaining cases in which the firearms had been locked, the youth knew the combination or where the key was kept or broke into the cabinet.

It's worth noting that families without guns at home have the lowest suicide rates. But for those who do own firearms, safe storage matters.

In a world where children are increasingly taking their own lives, knowing what to look for and how to help is vital. We can also strive to make sure young people know they have support and feel a sense of hope for the future. Suicide touches all of us eventually, so it's up to all of us to help prevent it in whatever way we can.

If you or someone you love is thinking about suicide, call the 24-hr National Suicide Hotline 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

Wil Wheaton speaking to an audience at 2019 Wondercon.

In an era of debates over cancel culture and increased accountability for people with horrendous views and behaviors, the question of art vs. artist is a tricky one. When you find out an actor whose work you enjoy is blatantly racist and anti-semitic in real life, does that realization ruin every movie they've been a part of? What about an author who has expressed harmful opinions about a marginalized group? What about a smart, witty comedian who turns out to be a serial sexual assaulter? Where do you draw the line between a creator and their creation?

As someone with his feet in both worlds, actor Wil Wheaton weighed in on that question and offered a refreshingly reasonable perspective.

A reader who goes by @avinlander asked Wheaton on Tumblr:

"Question: I have more of an opinion question for you. When fans of things hear about misconduct happening on sets/behind-the-scenes are they allowed to still enjoy the thing? Or should it be boycotted completely? Example: I've been a major fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer since I was a teenager and it was currently airing. I really nerded out on it and when I lost my Dad at age 16 'The Body' episode had me in such cathartic tears. Now we know about Joss Whedon. I haven't rewatched a single episode since his behavior came to light. As a fan, do I respectfully have to just box that away? Is it disrespectful of the actors that went through it to knowingly keep watching?"

And Wheaton offered this response, which he shared on Facebook:

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."