A January 2020 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the suicide rate has increased forty percent over the last two decades. The report utilized data from the National Violent Death Reporting System. This data determined that 38,000 people between the ages of sixteen and sixty-four died from suicide in 2017. Just a year later, in 2018, this number increased to 48,344. Suicide rates are drastically increasing, and indicates an alarming trend among the United States population.
These statistics are especially worrying for youth and young adults. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for those ages fifteen to twenty-four. On top of that, it took only a decade, from the years 2007 to 2017, for the suicide rate to double among this age group. Undoubtedly, suicide has become a pandemic among young Americans, and demonstrates the sadness, despondence and emptiness many of them experience. Not only do the latest suicide statistics indicate this, but other studies have established that Americans are increasingly unhappy and unsatisfied. According to the World Happiness Report, overall life satisfaction among Americans has decreased 6% over the past eleven years.
For young adults, specifically those in college, depression and anxiety levels have skyrocketed. In a 2018-2019 annual report on the mental health of college students, the Healthy Minds Study found that 36% of students surveyed were suffering from moderate to major depression and 31% were found to have an anxiety disorder. In other studies, 41% of students have reported feeling too depressed to function and 62% said they suffered from “overwhelming” anxiety. Another reason that mental health issues are common among college students is because the ages of 18-24, are when many mental health disorders manifest.
However, it isn’t just mental illness that explains these rising rates. Only about half of those who commit suicide have known mental health issues.
Stress is another huge contributor, especially for college students, who face a “unique amount of stressors.” Students must contend with academic stress, a different lifestyle, new relationships and an evolving identity, often all at once. The stress of these situations can be further amplified when students have poor coping skills. This may make them more susceptible to depressive or anxious feelings.
Another contributing factor could be the way in which students utilize their free time. A strong correlation exists between smartphone usage and levels of happiness, a relationship that has been repeatedly noted by researchers. As cell phone usage increases, symptoms such as depression, low self-esteem and anxiety also increase. While this may not be enough to determine causation, it is interesting to note. Especially because other activities not involving technology such as athletics and exercise, spending time with friends and family and doing homework are linked to higher levels of happiness.
College students are especially at risk, given that they use cell phones in “managing critical situations and maintaining social relationships.” Results from a particular survey, which the researcher commented were “astounding,” found that female college students spend an average of ten hours daily on their cellphones while men spend an average of eight. Taking it even further, other studies have found that at least a quarter of college students can be classified as having a phone dependency.
Unfortunately, college students seem to face a collision of risk factors associated with suicide all at once. There isn’t a single variable that provides an explanation. Perhaps the best strategy for students is to develop protective factors, which serve to mitigate their risk. These include: fostering positive social relationships with family and friends, participating in campus events and developing stress management skills.
The CDC suicide statistics are alarming and speak to a severe emptiness and sadness felt by many young adults, feelings that are destroying lives and must be taken more seriously.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.