Suicide & Self-harm Rates Among Teen Girls Has Escalated

September is National Suicide Prevention Month

Rates of Suicide and Self-Harm Among Teenage Girls has Escalated

September 12, 2023

Adolescence is a period of tremendous growth and self-discovery, but it can be accompanied by intense emotional struggles as evidenced by the alarming trend of increased suicide rates, especially in the LGBTQ community.

Elk River Treatment Program supports National Suicide Prevention Month each year in September. Many of its clients over the years have been admitted after struggling with depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts.

According to 2022 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people aged 14-18, with girls at a higher risk than boys. Almost 2,000 suicides in this age group occurred in 2021. Approximately one-third (30%) of female students in 2021 reported seriously considering attempting suicide during the 12 months before the survey period.* Self-harm, including cutting, burning, and other forms of intentional self-injury, has become distressingly common among adolescent girls.

Studies consistently show higher rates of suicide and suicidal ideation among LGBTQ adolescents compared to their heterosexual counterparts. According to Trevor Project’s National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health in 2022, 45% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the surveyed year, with transgender and nonbinary youth reporting even higher rates. 60% of LGBTQ youth who wanted mental health care but did not get it cited the following deterrents: affordability, fear of discussing mental health concerns, obtaining parent/caregiver permission, fear of not being taken seriously, fear of care not working, fear of being outed, fear of identity being misunderstood, and lack of transportation.**

Penny Baker, LPC-S, Chief Clinical Officer at Elk River Treatment Program for adolescents, said the increasing prevalence of suicide, suicidal ideation (SI), suicide attempts, and self-harm demands urgent attention from parents, educators, healthcare professionals, and society at large. Elk River Treatment Program was founded in 2006 to provide around-the-clock supervision and evidence-based treatment plans to help adolescents who have exhibited self-harming and other disruptive behaviors. According to the adolescent program’s Director of Admissions, Kathy Marino, LPC, more than 40% of inquiries for admission to the program are prompted by an adolescent’s self-harm, suicidal ideation, or suicide attempt.

Contributing Factors to Self-Harm Among Teenage Girls

Social and Emotional Pressures

Teenage girls often encounter situations that contribute to their vulnerability. The pressure to conform to societal standards of beauty, excel academically, maintain social relationships, and interpret the complexities of social media can be overwhelming.

LGBTQ adolescents often face unique challenges compared to their heterosexual and cisgender peers (a person whose gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth). The struggle to navigate their sexual orientation or gender identity within a sometimes unsupportive or hostile environment can lead to increased levels of distress. Many adolescents experience rejection, discrimination, and bullying at home, online, and in educational institutions. Fear of being ostracized or misunderstood can be incredibly overwhelming and lead to mental health issues.

Mental Health Issues

Undiagnosed or untreated mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and borderline personality disorder, can significantly increase the risk of self-harm and suicidal tendencies among teenage girls. These conditions can amplify feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, and despair.

Cyberbullying and Online Harassment

Social media has exposed young girls to new forms of bullying and harassment. The constant comparison, negative comments, and cyberbullying can severely damage their self-esteem and mental well-being.

Family Dynamics and Trauma

An unstable family environment, divorce, neglect, abuse, and other forms of trauma and loss can contribute to the emotional turmoil experienced by teenage girls. These experiences can create a sense of isolation and despair, leading to self-destructive behaviors.

"Every Child is Wonderfully Unique"

The staff at the Elk River Treatment Program believe that all adolescents should have equal access to quality mental health treatment that assists adolescents in developing healthy coping skills that are based on their individualized needs or issues. “Every child treated has a wonderfully unique personality and we work to empower our clients to find healthy ways to address their core issues that complement who they are and the healthy person they want to be,” Baker said.

Prevention and Support

What can be done to prevent self-destructive behavior and support youth who are exhibiting signs of depression, suicidal ideation, and/or attempts? A few suggestions include:

  1. Raise Awareness and Education: Educating parents, teachers, and teenagers themselves about the signs of mental distress, the importance of seeking help, and the consequences of self-harm and suicide is crucial. Establishing school-based mental health programs and integrating mental health education into the curriculum can help reduce stigma and foster early intervention.
  2. Ensure Accessible Mental Health Services: Ensure that mental health services are readily available and accessible to teens and their families. Schools, communities, and healthcare systems must invest in mental health resources, including counseling services, helplines, and support groups specifically tailored to the needs of teenage girls.
  3. Promote Positive Body Image and Self-Esteem: Encourage positive body image and self-esteem to counteract the negative impact of societal pressures. Schools and communities should promote body positivity self-acceptance, and provide platforms for open discussions about body image issues.
  4. Prevent Cyberbullying: Efforts to combat cyberbullying should involve collaboration between schools, parents, and social media platforms. Implementing strict policies against cyberbullying, promoting responsible online behavior, and fostering a culture of empathy and support can help protect teenage girls from online harassment.

Understanding the contributing factors and implementing targeted prevention strategies can create a safer and more supportive environment for adolescent girls. It is essential to foster open conversations about mental health, provide early intervention, and ensure that mental health resources are accessible.

Elk River Treatment Program is staffed with licensed mental health providers and experienced support staff to provide adolescent girls and boys ages 12 – 18 with evidence-based therapeutic care in a secure residential setting. A seasoned program like Elk River, founded in 2006 in north Alabama, can provide around-the-clock supervision in a disciplined, highly structured and respectful environment necessary for life-changing discoveries.

**The Trevor Project

What To Say to Someone Experiencing a Mental Health Crisis ...

Don't say: We all go through times like these.
Do say: I care about you and want to help.

Don't say: You have so much to live for.
Do say: You are important to me.

Don't say: What do you want me to do. I can't solve this.
Do say: You are not alone in this. I'm here for you.

Don't say: Here's my advice ...
Do say: Talk to me. I am listening.

Don't say: What is wrong with you now? Shouldn't you be better?
Do say: We will get through this together.