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The Latest Data Show Youth Suicides Continue To Rise In Missouri And Kansas

Laura Ziegler
KCUR 89.3
Spring Hill High School senior Bella Price keeps a photo of her friend Josh Hoston (top left), who killed himself three years ago. She's now working with other students to try to address the rise in teen suicides in Johnson County, Kansas.

In 2017 in Missouri,  75 children and teenagers killed themselves — the most on record, according to an analysis of the most recent available data for the state.

That same year in Kansas, 99 young people took their own lives. Another record.

It’s difficult to compare youth suicides in Kansas and Missouri because the two states track the data differently, and some places supress the numbers so that individuals aren't identifiable in the statistics. It's even more difficult to find county-level data, particularly in areas with small populations. Suicides are likely undercounted everywhere, because it can be hard to know someone’s intention, or whether something like a drug overdose was meant to kill them or was accidental.

Still, as families, mental health experts and school officials in the Kansas City metro increase efforts to prevent young people from killing themselves, KCUR has gathered the most recent data from each state to get a sense of the extent of the problem.

According to 2017 data from the Centers for Disease Control, Kansas ranks 8th in the nation for the highest suicide rates of young people ages 10 through 19.

Missouri ranks 17th. 

Nationwide, 38,785 teens between the ages of 10 and 19 have committed suicide from 1999 to 2017.

When you look at the aggregate data at the state level, you can start to see trends.

The chart above shows the total number of youth suicides in Kansas from 1999 to 2017, with colors representing the proportion of males and females and the age groupings.

Kansas has seen recent upticks in suicides among the 5- to 14-year-old age groups (six in 2017) and the 15- to 24-year-old age groups (93 in 2017).

Missouri tracks this data differently from Kansas, using age ranges 10 to 19.

Considering an almost 20-year range, the actual numbers have gone both up and down, though the overall trend shows a rise.

This increase in teen suicides is not anomaly for Kansas City area or Kansas and Missouri: There has been a national increase in suicides overall.

Middle-aged white men are the largest demographic committing suicide, and firearms account for about half of all suicide deaths.

Suicide is the third-leading cause of death for young people from between the ages of 10 and 24, according to the CDC. While boys are more likely than girls to die from suicide, girls are more likely to attempt suicide. The latest national data also shows that among teens, there’s been an increase in the number of young women who are committing suicide.

Credit Kelsey Ryan / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
The Centers for Disease Control tracks suicides by race.

The data provided by Kansas and Missouri did not allow us to drill deeper into demographics such as race and ethnicity. Generally, we know that youth suicide rates in the U.S. are highest among Native American or Alaska Natives, followed by whites.

In 2018, a study published in JAMA Pediatrics found that from 2001 to 2015, the overall suicide rate for people ages five to 17 was 42 percent lower among black youth than white youth. In the five- to 12-year-old range, however, suicides among black children were roughly two times higher than those for similarly aged white children. As they got older, the trend reverted back to the national average.

KCUR is partnering with American Public Square to host a discussion on teen suicide prevention Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas.

Kelsey Ryan is a freelance contributor for KCUR 89.3. You can follow her on Twitter at @kelsey_ryan.

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