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Introduction

I hate the world today. I feel so old inside. The tree of death is near, I don't know what to feel. The end is soon. I can't tell my parents, teachers, or friends. It's getting worse. Please help me. —statement by an Oregon student

During 1994-96, at least 97 Oregon youth 10 to 19 years old committed suicide; the youngest were two 10 year old boys who hanged themselves. 1 Suicide is the second leading cause of death of 10-19 year old Oregonians. (Unintentional injuries ranked first. 2 ) In three and one-half decades, the suicide rate among the state's youth has increased more than five-fold. Between the periods 1959-61 and 1994-96, the suicide death rate for 15- to 19-year-olds soared from 2.8 to 15.1 per 100,000 population ( Figure 1). 3, 4 Oregon's suicide rate for 15- to 19-year-olds was 29% higher than the nation's during 1993-95 and ranked 17th highest among the states. 5

Through self-inflicted gunshot wounds,
and other injuries, almost 100
Oregon youth committed suicide
in just three years.

If this trend is to be reversed, it is essential to develop an understanding of characteristics, behaviors, and events associated with youth suicide -- factors that can be used to identify at-risk youth. One available tool is the 1997 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS). The survey included three questions regarding suicidal ideation and behavior:
1. During the past 12 months, did you ever seriously consider attempting suicide?

2. During the past 12 months, how many times did you actually attempt suicide?

3. If you attempted suicide during the past 12 months, did any attempt result in an injury, poisoning, or overdose that had to be treated by a doctor or nurse?
This report focuses on the students who said they actually attempted suicide. A caveat: Recent research has shown that only a small proportion of survey respondents who report having attempted suicide actually have taken substantive action to injure themselves. 6 Some students use a liberal definition of "suicide attempt" mistaking vivid ideation for an attempt. 7


Highlights

    Deaths
    • During the past three and one-half decades, the suicide rate for Oregon 15- to 19-year-olds has increased more than five-fold.
    • The long-term increase in Oregon's overall suicide rate has been driven almost entirely by the sharp increase in suicide by the state's adolescents and young adults.
    • During the last three and one-half decades, the suicide by gun rate increased 4.3 times faster than did the rate for other methods.

    Attempts
    • Twenty-two percent of Oregon high school students reported considering suicide; 9% said they attempted suicide, and 2% said they were treated by a doctor or nurse for an attempt.
    • Female high school students reported attempting suicide more than twice as often as did males (12% vs. 5%).
    • Non-white and Hispanic students attempted suicide more often than did whites.
    • Students enrolled in schools with a small student body were more likely to attempt suicide than were other students.
    • Youth who had no caring adults to talk to were three times more likely to attempt suicide than were those who could go to at least two adults (16% vs. 5%).
    • Physically abused students were five times more likely to try to kill themselves than were their non-abused counterparts (19% vs. 4%).
    • Sexually abused students were almost four times more likely to try to kill themselves than were their non-abused counterparts (22% vs. 6%).
    • Very overweight and very underweight youth were more likely to attempt suicide.
    • Students who smoked more than a pack of cigarettes a day were nine times more apt to attempt to kill themselves than were non-smokers (45% vs. 5%).
    • Frequent alcohol drinkers (20+ days of the previous 30) were seven times more likely to attempt suicide than were non-drinkers (29% vs. 4%).
    • Students who abused inhalants (e.g., glue, spray paint) 10 or more times during the previous 30 days attempted suicide six times more often than non-abusers (46% vs. 8%).
    • Teens who were sexually active, particularly at an early age, were more likely to report suicide attempts.
    • Those who were pregnant (or caused a pregnancy) two or more times were eight times more likely to attempt suicide than were virgins (41% vs. 5%).
    • The home environment is an important predictor of suicidal and other risky behavior among Oregon high school students.