In 2010, males ages 15 to 19 were nearly four times more likely to commit suicide, six times more likely to be victims of homicide, and eight times more likely to be involved in a firearm-related death than were females of the same age.
Homicide and suicide are the second and third leading causes of death, respectively, among teens ages 15 to 19, after unintentional injury.1 In 2010, firearms were the instrument of death in 85 percent of teen homicides and 40 percent of teen suicides.2 While non-firearm injuries result in death in only one out of every 760 cases, almost one in four youth firearm injuries is fatal.3
Although other teens are the perpetrators of many of the homicides of teens below age 18, two-thirds of the murderers are eighteen or older.4 Gang involvement has been associated with many teen murders; in 2002, nearly three-quarters of teen homicides were attributed to gang violence.5 Although school-related homicides receive substantial media attention, in the 2009-10 school year they accounted for about one percent of all child homicides.6
Mood disorders, such as depression, dysthymia, and bipolar disease, are major risk factors for suicide among children and adolescents.7 One study found that more than 90 percent of children and adolescents who committed suicide had some type of mental disorder.8 Stressful life events and low levels of communication with parents may also be significant risk factors.9,10 Female teens are about twice as likely to attempt suicide; however, males are much more likely to actually commit suicide.11
Between 1970 the early 1990s, the homicide rate for teens ages 15 to 19 more than doubled, from 8.1 to a peak of 20.7 per 100,000 in 1993.12 The rate declined steeply during the late 1990s, then leveled out at around nine deaths per 100,000 between 2000 and 2004. Although the rate of homicides increased between 2004 and 2006, to 10.7 deaths per 100,000, it has since decreased; in 2010, the homicide rate was 8.3 deaths per 100,000, the lowest it has been since before 1980.
Trends in firearm-related deaths (homicides and suicides, as well as deaths from unintended injuries) have followed a similar pattern for teens ages 15 to 19, with rates declining dramatically during the late 1990s, from 24.5 per 100,000 in 1995, to 13.1 per 100,000 in 2000. As with the homicide rate, the firearm-related death rate fluctuated slightly between 2000 and 2006, before decreasing to 10.6 deaths per 100,000 in 2010, the lowest rate on record. (Figure 1)
The teen suicide rate increased from 5.9 to 11.1 per 100,000 population between 1970 and 1994,13 before declining to 8.0 per 100,000 in 2003. Since then, the rate has been relatively stable, fluctuating between seven and eight per 100,000. In 2010, the rate of suicide was 7.5 per 100,000. (Figure 1)
Differences by Gender
Males ages 15 to 19 are approximately four times more likely than females to die from suicide, (11.7 and 3.1 per 100,000, respectively, in 2010), and almost six times more likely to die from homicide (14.0and 2.3 per 100,000, respectively, in 2010). Males of this age are also eight times more likely to die from any firearm-related incident: in 2010, 18.4 per 100,000 males died by firearms, compared with 2.3 per 100,000 females. (Figure 2)
The disparity between males and females in rates of homicide generally increased between 1970 and 2006, from a factor of four to a factor of nine. This has since decreased, so that in 2010, males were six times as likely as females to be victims of homicide. (Appendix 1)
Differences by Race and Hispanic Origin14
In 2010, the homicide rate for black male teens was 51.7 per 100,000, more than 22 times higher than the rate for white male teens (2.4 per 100,000). Rates for other groups were 17.9 per 100,000 for Hispanic males, 11.9 per 100,000 for American Indian males, and 3.2* per 100,000 for Asian and Pacific Islander males. (Figure 3)
Among females, black and Hispanic teens had the highest homicide rates in 2010, at 6.8 and 2.1 per 100,000, respectively, followed by 1.2 per 100,000 for white females, and less than one* per 100,000 for Asian and American Indian females. (Appendix 1)
Firearm deaths, which comprise a majority of teen homicides and suicides but also include accidental deaths, were highest in 2010 among black teens (52.7 per 100,000 males, and 5.3 per 100,000 females), and lowest among Asian teens (4.3 per 100,000 males and 0.4* per 100,000 females). American Indian teens had the second-highest rate (19.3 per 100,000 males, and 1.6* per 100,000 females), followed by Hispanic teens (17.8 per 100,000 males and 2.0 per 100,000 females). White teens had the second-lowest rate (9.4 per 100,000 males, and 1.7 per 100,000 females). (Appendix 1, Figure 3)
In 2010, rates of suicide among male teens were highest among American Indians (24.3 per 100,000) and whites (14.2), followed by Hispanics at 8.1, blacks at 6.8, and Asian or Pacific Islanders at 6.3 per 100,000. (Figure 4) Among females, American Indian teens had the highest rate at 11.0 per 100,000, followed by white teens at 3.5, Hispanic teens at 2.9, and Asian or Pacific Islanders with 3.1, with black teens at 1.1 per 100,000. (Appendix 1)
*Note: These estimates should be treated with caution, as they are based on 20 or fewer deaths and may be unstable.
State and Local Estimates
Estimates of homicide rates among youth ages 10-29 for selected countries and global suicide rates for youth ages 15-24 are available from the 2002 World Report on Violence and Health. (Tables 2.1 and 7.2)
Estimates of male homicide and suicide for 1995 and earlier are available for selected European countries and the U.S. at http://www.childpolicyintl.org/ (Under “Social Indicators,” see Tables 3.45 and 3.46)
Through its Healthy People 2020 initiative, the federal government has set national goals to reduce suicide attempts by adolescents, from 1.9 per 100, in 2009, to 1.7 by 2020; to reduce homicides (among all age groups), from 6.1 per 100,000 population in 2007, to 5.5; and to reduce firearm-related deaths (among all age groups) from 10.2 per 100,000 population in 2007, to 9.2.
Additional information available at:
What Works to Make Progress on This Indicator
Brief, standardized screening of adolescents for suicide in the context of a primary health care visit can identify at-risk youth and prompt a referral for behavioral health services.15
The National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs is a searchable database that includes the topics of violence prevention and suicide prevention.
An important component of reducing firearm-related injury is safe storage of household firearms, since firearms are presents in about one-third of American households with children and youth.16 Gun ownership has been found to be a risk factor for homicide in the home.17,18
Homicide, suicide, and firearm-related deaths are determined by physicians, medical examiners, and coroners’ reports on death certificates. Deaths are classified using ICD 10 codes. More information on ICD 10 classification is available here.
Data for 1999-2010: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS). National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/index.html
Data for Total, Male and Female 1970-1998: National Center for Health Statistics. (2002). Health United States, 2002 with Chartbook on Trends in the Health of Americans. National Center for Health Statistics. 2002. Tables 46, 47, and 48.
Race data from: 1970-1998: Trends in the well-being Of America's children and youth 2001. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. Tables HC 3.4A and 3.5.
Raw Data Source
National Vital Statistics System
Recommended citation: Child Trends (2012). Teen Homicide, Suicide, and Firearm Deaths. Retrieved from http://www.childtrendsdatabank.org/?q=node/124
Last update: November 2012
1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) [Online]. (2012). National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (producer). Available from: www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/fatal.html
3Fingerhut, D. and Christoffel, K. (2002) Firearm-related death and Injury among children and adolescents. The Future of Children, 12(2), 25-38. Available at: http://www.futureofchildren.org/homepage2824/index.htm
4Finkerhor, D. and Ormrod, R. (2001). Homicides of children and youth. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, U.S. Department of Justice. pp. 4, 7. Available at: http://www.ncjrs.org/pdffiles1/ojjdp/187239.pdf
6Robers, S., Zhang, J., Truman, J., Snyder, T. D. (2012). Indicators of school crime and safety: 2011 (NCES 2012-002/NCJ 236021). National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, and Bureau of Justice Statistics, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Washington, DC. Table 1.1. http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2012/2012002.pdf
7Office of the U.S. Surgeon General. (1999). Children and mental health. In Mental health: A report of the Surgeon General. Chapter 3. Washington, D.C.: U.S.GPO. http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/mentalhealth/
8Shaffer, D., & Craft, L., (1999). Methods of adolescent suicide prevention. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 60 (Suppl. 2), 70–74. Available at: http://www.healthri.org/disease/violence/vppsuicide_shaffer.htm
9Office of the U.S. Surgeon General. (1999) Children and mental health. In Mental health: A report of the Surgeon General. Chapter 3. Washington, D.C.: U.S.GPO. http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/mentalhealth/
10National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center. Youth suicide. http://www.safeyouth.org/scripts/topics/suicide.asp
12U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2001). Trends in the well-being of America's children and youth 2001. Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. Tables HC 3.4A and HC 3.5. http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/01trends/contents.htm
14Estimates for whites, blacks, American Indian/Alaskan Native and Asian/Pacific Islanders include Hispanics.
15Wintersteen, M. B. (2010). Standardized screening for suicidal adolescents in primary care. Pediatrics, 125(5), 938-944.
16Gardner, W., Klima, J., Chisolm, D., Feehan, H., Bridge, J., Campo, J., Cunningham, N., and Kelleher, K. (2010). Pediatrics, 125(5), 945-952.
17Johnson, R. M., Miller, M., Vriniotis, M., Azrael, D., and Hemenway, D. (2006). Are household firearms stored less safely in homes with adolescents? Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, 160, 788-792.
18Kellerman, A. L., Rivara, F. P., Rushforth, N. B., Banton, J. G., Reay, D. T., Francisco, J. T., Locci, A. B., Pordzinski, J., Hackman, B. B., and Somes, G. (1993). Gun ownership as a risk factor for homicide in the home. New England Journal of Medicine, 329(15), 1084-1091.