Suicide rate among young women doubles in a decade

Experts say unprecedented rise in 20-24-year-old women taking their lives despite national decline is largely down to social media and 'selfie culture'

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Monday 18 December 2017 21:07 GMT
The rise in suicides among young women is linked to pressures on body image and ‘selfie culture', said Chris O’Sullivan of the Mental Health Foundation
The rise in suicides among young women is linked to pressures on body image and ‘selfie culture', said Chris O’Sullivan of the Mental Health Foundation

Suicides among young women have nearly doubled in the past decade despite overall rates hitting a 20-year low, figures show.

The suicide rate among women between the ages of 20 and 24 is at its highest point on record, with 118 women in this age group taking their own lives last year, compared with 67 in 2006 – a rise of 76 per cent.

Overall, suicide rates in the UK fell by 4 per cent last year, marking the largest decrease in two decades, according to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The rate of 20-24 year-old women taking their own lives increased from 3.3 per 100,000 in 2006 to 5.7 per 100,000 last year. Suicides among teenage girls aged between 15 and 19 have also increased, from a rate of 2.3 to 2.9 in the same period – an increase of 20 per cent.

While suicide among men remains considerably higher – accounting for three-quarters of all cases – experts have raised concerns about the unprecedented rise in young women taking their lives, highlighting the role of social media.

Chris O’Sullivan, of the Mental Health Foundation, told The Independent the rise in suicides among young women was linked to their relationship to the digital world, citing pressures on body image and the “selfie” culture, and urged that more research is needed on the impact of this.

“The group at the highest risk are middle-aged men, but young women are the ones that stick out in these figures, and we absolutely need to understand why this is by looking at the challenges they face,” he said.

“Young women and girls face an enormous range of challenges and a lot of these are emerging at a pace that adults don’t understand. The digital world and how young people relate to it is something we need more research on.

“And this particularly reflects young women and girls in terms of body image: The ‘selfie’ culture and the need for physical perfection. We need a better frame of understanding on the way modern life impacts on our mental health including our use of social media and other technology.”

It comes after figures published by the NHS last month revealed more than one in 10 teenage girls in England were referred to mental health or learning disability services last year.​

Around 69,000 16- and 17-year-old girls received an open referral to NHS-funded secondary mental health, learning disabilities or autism services during 2016-17 – amounting to 11.4 per cent of this group as a whole.

A study by researchers at the University of Manchester, meanwhile, found that self-harm among young people aged 10-19 was three times more common among girls than boys, with those who self-harmed at much greater risk of suicide than those who did not.

Based on data from 674 GP practices across the UK, the findings revealed that annually between 2001 and 2014 on average 37.4 girls per 10,000 and just over 12 boys per 10,000 reported their first episode of self-harm.

In response to the ONS statistics, health minister Jackie Doyle-Price said:

Jackie Doyle-Price said: “It is promising to see a significant drop in the suicide rate in England and we are committed to reducing these rates even further.

“Every suicide is a tragedy and we continue to work tirelessly to prevent further deaths, but we are beginning to see our work pay off with almost all local areas having a suicide prevention plan in place.”

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