Suicide has become the leading killer of teenage girls, worldwide. Take a moment to read this article to find out why:
Towards the end of last year, a shocking statistic appeared deep in the pages of a World Health Organisation report. It was this: suicide has become the leading killer of teenage girls, worldwide. More girls aged between 15 and 19 die from self-harm than from road accidents, diseases or complications of pregnancy.
For years, child-bearing was thought to cause the most deaths in this age group. But at some point in the last decade or so – statistics were last collected on this scale in 2000 – suicide took over. And, according to the WHO’s revised data for 2000, it had already just inched its way ahead of maternal mortality at the turn of the millennium.
“I’m not quite sure why we haven’t realised this before,” says Suzanne Petroni, a senior director at ICRW. “Maternal mortality has come down so much, which is fantastic,” she says.
That’s a major factor behind the fall in the overall death rate for 15-19 year old girls from 137.4 deaths per 100,000 girls in 2000 to 112.6 today. It’s an amazing achievement.
And it has allowed the spotlight to fall, finally, on what has actually been the biggest killer all along: suicide.
The report looks at six global regions. In Europe, it is the number one killer of teenage girls. In Africa, it’s not even in the top five, “because maternal deaths and HIV are so high,” says Petroni.
But in every region of the world, other than Africa, suicide is one of the top three causes of death for 15 to 19 year old girls. (For boys, the leading killer globally is road injury).
It’s particularly shocking given that suicide is notoriously underreported.
“We don’t really know the extent of the problem,” says Roseanne Pearce, a Senior Supervisor at Childline in the UK. “Because the coroner often won’t record it as suicide. Sometimes that’s at the family’s request, and sometimes it’s simply to protect the family’s feelings.”
In countries where stigma is particularly high, suicides are even less likely to be recorded than they are in the UK. And the poorest countries in the WHO’s report have very patchy data on births and deaths at all, let alone reliable detail on what caused those deaths.