CDC Study Reveals Correlations Between Suicide, Sexual Activity, and Pandemic Lockdowns

Wim De Gent
By Wim De Gent
April 28, 2023US News
CDC Study Reveals Correlations Between Suicide, Sexual Activity, and Pandemic Lockdowns
Students wear facemasks as they attend their first day in school at the Barbara Goleman Senior High School in Miami, Florida, on Aug. 23, 2021. (Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images)

A Youth Risk Behavior study analyzing suicidal thoughts and behaviors among high school students in 2019 and 2021 found correlations with sexual activity and societal restrictions imposed through the COVID-19 lockdown measures.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report asked 17,232 students aged 14–18 about four suicide-related issues: whether they had seriously considered suicide in the last 12 months; whether they had made a plan about how to commit suicide; whether an actual suicide attempt was made; and whether this attempt resulted in injury, poisoning, or overdose that had to be treated by a doctor or nurse.

The study showed a continuation of the previously documented trend of rising rates of suicide risk among young females. Still, it noted a marked increase in suicidal thoughts and behaviors in 2021, attributed to anxiety caused by the social isolation imposed by COVID-19 lockdown measures.

Comparing data from 2019 with 2021, the study showed a 24.1 to 30 percent increase among females considering suicide and a 19.9 to 23.6 percent increase in planning suicide. The number of females attempting suicide increased from 11 to 13.3 percent.

Those most affected were girls in grades 9 and 10.

Female youths have historically been more likely to have suicidal thoughts and make attempts, while male suicide attempts end in death more often, the authors stated.

Although increases were observed among specific subgroups of male students, the overall prevalence of suicidal issues remained stable.

In 2021, people of color were slightly less likely to consider suicide than whites but more likely to plan and attempt suicide. Asians exhibited a significantly lower prevalence of all four suicidal issues than other ethnic groups.

The study also showed that those with no sexual contact were less affected by suicidal thoughts and behaviors by a factor of 2 to 30, depending on the specific issue and group.

Overall the LGBT subgroup continues to be the most affected group, being six times more likely to consider suicide, ten times more likely to attempt suicide, and 30 times more likely to suffer injuries from such attempts.

Those who engaged in heterosexual sexual contact had a two to three times higher prevalence for all suicidal issues than those who abstained from sexual contact.

The suicide rate for youths aged 14–18 was 9 per 100,000 in 2021, or 1,952 suicides nationwide. This number makes suicide the third leading cause of death for this age group.

Counting all ages, 48,183 U.S. citizens died from suicide, making it the eleventh leading cause of death overall in the nation, accounting for approximately 1.4 percent of all deaths.

The COVID-19 pandemic had a different effect on suicide risk among male and female youths, the study concluded, although the result was negative for both.

These results were consistent with another CDC study that reported a 50 percent increase in emergency department visits during February and March of 2021 for suspected suicide attempts among girls aged 12–17 versus a 3.7 percent increase among boys of the same age.

To curb the upward trend of suicidal behaviors, the 2021 Youth Risk Behavior study recommended developing school and community-based strategies, including “creating safe and supportive environments, promoting connectedness, teaching coping and problem solving, gatekeeper training, and implementing mental health services and programs.”

The authors called for future research to examine “how intersectional identities and social norms regarding gender, race and ethnicity, and sexual orientation contribute to risk for suicidal behaviors.”

The authors also hoped that a better understanding of how the pandemic policies “exacerbated suicide risk” could lead to better school and community-based suicide prevention approaches during future infrastructure disruptions.

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