Teenage suicide rates increasing nationwide

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At the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, phone operators on the emergency suicide hotline hear from a variety of people daily, including teenagers.

"We typically get calls from people in that age range who are struggling with that transition from childhood to adulthood," said Tom Mueller, an education and prevention manager.

A new study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that teenage suicide rates have risen nationwide by more than 30 percent among teen boys. Even more alarming, the rates have doubled among teen girls, reaching a 40-year high.

Mueller said teenagers a vulnerable group, especially with ever-growing presence of social media in their lives. Many young people feel the need to compare themselves to others.

"There's a lot of checking and looking at [their devices], and it's the same story that teens have had all along. How do people perceive me? Am I accepted by my peers or other people? What am I going to do in the future," said Mueller.

Mueller said other factors that can affect teens include mental illnesses, like depression, substance abuse and family financial struggles.

CDC researchers looked at data from 1975 to 2015, and found that suicide rates for males ages 15 to 19 rose from 12 per 100,000 individuals to 18 per 100,000 between 1975 and 1990. Suicide rates for males dropped between 1990 and 2007, but began to rise again to 14 suicides for every 100,000 by 2015.

In 1975, the suicide rate among females ages 15 to 19 sat at 2.9 per 100,000 individuals. In 2015, the rate peaked at 5.1 per 100,000 females, a 40 year high.

"Recently, this past year, one of my best friends was really, really struggling, and I didn't really know how to get her help," said 16-year-old Emily Surak, who is a student at Plant High School.

Surak was inspired to bring awareness to teen suicide. It's now part of her platform as "Miss Central Florida's Outstanding Teen." She teaches other young girls that their lives are valuable and worth living.

"There are people that love you, and there are hotlines that you can call if you ever need someone to talk to," explained Surak. "This pain is temporary. Suicide is forever."

Suicide prevention experts said friends and family members should not be afraid to talk to teens who seem like they're struggling with life.

They said common warning signs that a teen is struggling with suicidal thoughts include withdrawal from other people and activities they once enjoyed, a tendency to lash out at others, and an overall apathy for life.

Anyone needing help can contact the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. In Hillsborough County, counselors and other local resources are available by dialing 211.

For more information, visit www.crisiscenter.com/