Youth Suicide Rates Reach Highest Level Since 2000—Why?

Youth Suicide Rates Reach Highest Level Since 2000—Why


Suicide rates among teens and young adults have skyrocketed to their highest levels in two decades, according to a study released in JAMA on June 18, 2019.

Alarmingly, suicide rates among teens ages 15-19 have seen the greatest jump, increasing by 10% from 2014-2017. Although previous studies have pointed to a rise in suicide among female teens—the number of girls ages 15-19 dying by suicide increased 8% from 2016 to 2017—this latest research found a surge in teenage boys taking their own lives. Compared to 2016, there was a 21% rise in 2017 in boys in the same age group dying by suicide.

This sobering research comes on the heels of another study showing that “deaths of despair” from suicide, drugs, and alcohol have reached a historic high. This deeply distressing news comes from a 2019 study by the Commonwealth Fund, which analyzed state-by-state data from 2005 to 2017. Here’s a closer look at the rise in deaths:

  • Drug overdoses: The rate of deaths from drug overdoses—primarily due to the opioid epidemic—rose by 118% across the nation in the 12 years studied. States with the highest death rates from drug overdoses are West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington DC, Kentucky, Delaware, and New Hampshire.
  • Alcohol-related deaths: Deaths from alcohol rose by 37% and have been increasing at a faster pace since 2013—growing 4% annually compared to 2% prior to 2013. The Midwest and West account for the biggest jump in alcohol-related deaths.
  • Suicide: Suicide rates are up nearly 30% nationally since 2005 with the most suicides occurring in states, such as Montana, the Dakotas, Alaska, Idaho, Nevada, and Colorado.  Sadly, the suicide rate increased the most dramatically from 2016 to 2017.

The research stops short of explaining why these deaths of despair are skyrocketing. What’s wrong? Why are we headed in the wrong direction? Shouldn’t our mental health care system and the growing number of addiction treatment centers be helping reverse these trends?

What’s Wrong with Mental Health Care in America?

America has an outdated, stigmatizing mental health paradigm that taints people with disparaging labels, preventing them from getting the help they need. And when they do seek help, they are faced with a field that is still diagnosing patients the same way it did over 100 years ago.

Mental health as it is currently practiced in the United States—making diagnoses based on symptom clusters with no biological information, then prescribing multiple medications where the mechanism in individual patients is unknown—does not have a prayer of fixing the epidemic problems of depression, suicide, and addictions

The Problem with Addiction Treatment in the U.S.

Similarly, most of the nation’s addiction treatment programs are missing the essential organ of intervention—the brain. Brain dysfunction is the number-one reason why people fall victim to addiction, why they can’t break the chains of addiction, and why they relapse.

Brain imaging studies using a technology called SPECT show that opioids, Vicodin, methamphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, and alcohol all seriously impair brain function. Unless we heal the brain, there’s little chance of breaking free from addiction.

We need to do better.

A New Brain-Centered Model for a Brighter Future

What if mental health was really brain health? And what if we replaced the outdated treatment model with a modern brain-based, whole-person program rooted in neuroscience and hope?

No one is shamed for cancer, diabetes, or heart disease, even though they have significant lifestyle contributions. Likewise, no one should be shamed for depression, suicidal thoughts, addictions, panic disorders, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other brain health issues.

Brain imaging helps eliminate the stigma currently attached to mental illness and addiction because people see that their problems are medical in nature, not moral. They aren’t due to a personal weakness or character flaw.

It decreases shame and guilt and increases forgiveness and compassion from their families. Reframing the discussion to brain health is also more accurate and elevates hope, increases the desire to get help, and increases compliance to make the necessary lifestyle changes. Once people understand that the brain controls everything they do and everything they are, they want a better brain so they can have a better life.

Brain Imaging Reveals Hope for Healing

The good news is that brain imaging studies show that the brain can heal. People with depression and suicidal thoughts can change their brain and change their lives. And people suffering from addictions have the potential for some of the most dramatic improvement in terms of brain function. In fact, before-and-after scans often reveal a stunning level of recovery.

Now is the time to adopt this new paradigm of brain-centered healing, so we can put the brakes on these staggering statistics and start reversing these trends.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

At Amen Clinics, we have the world’s largest database of functional brain scans related to behavior. We use brain SPECT imaging in addition to assessing the biological, psychological, social, and spiritual factors that may be contributing to mental health/brain health disorders and addictions. With this comprehensive evaluation, we are better able to accurately diagnose and personalize treatment solutions for your needs.

If you are struggling with depression, suicidal thoughts, or addiction, we’re here for you. We have helped thousands of people change their brain and get their life back. Find out more about our unique approach to mental health care by speaking to a specialist at 888-288-9834 or you can schedule a visit online.



  1. Recently saw a study that associated low cholesterol with suicide. Low B12 also associated with suicide. Apparently sometimes our diet choices can make us depressed. Also so many meds being prescribed now have suicidal thoughts as side effects! How are those meds even allowed? Recently I was prescribed an antibiotic for uti that had suicidal thoughts listed as possible side effect in the small print, but neither doctor nor pharmacist gave me a heads up. That’s not right at all.

    Comment by Gail — July 12, 2019 @ 3:07 AM

  2. 20 yr old son severe depression, many years suffering. No meds work. Daily struggles. So smart and kind. What’s pain in head to stop. Cannot afford to go to CA. In Ohio, any satellite offices here. Make this care available in EVERY STATE. So many are suffering, this is an crisis of epidemic proportions.

    Comment by Lisa Ball — July 12, 2019 @ 3:10 AM

  3. This statistics you site in this article are staggering! I’ve been touched by suicide personally by a dear friend who took her life in 2014. She was 57 years old but probably battled some form of brain issues all her life. I currently know people who are suffering (and creating havoc for their parents) from mental illness, addiction, serious behavior issues. I have I explored your work, Dr Amen. I have great respect for all you’ve done. My concern is the cost of the help. Seems it is only for the financially solvent family that can take advantage of SPECT. This has been a great source of pain for me since I know you could be helping: my son (29 years old) with addiction problems, behavior issues, mood disorder & the son of a dear friend of mine (he’s 25) who has DeGeorge Syndrome which includes severe OCD, Epilepsy, & severe behavior issues. Neither family has the money for your treatment. Where do we go to help our children when we can’t afford it? Are there treatments similar to yours in NYC that would be more affordable and/or covered by medical insurance?

    Comment by Susan Steinhardt — July 12, 2019 @ 3:30 AM

  4. This is such important information. Please help practioners—including community MH counselors and School Counselors (of which I am one) deliver this information in an easy-to-understand format. Make your technology more widely available and affordable. If Amen Clinics only gives lip-service to this issue, then you are perpetuating the problem. I would certainly use the info with my students. I do have one of Dr. Amen’s books about ANTS. Great book!

    Comment by Jill Auldyn Curry — July 12, 2019 @ 4:51 AM

  5. Thank you for shining a light on such a “silent” epedemic of despair and the root of Addiction! Our family has shared a great loss of a family member who took his life. I realized quickly the stigma of suicide! We must give a passionate voice for those who lost there own from hopelessness and despair due to our own fears and ignorance as a Nation of Mental Illness! I personally understand how vitally important Brain health is to live in the light of knowledge and hope! There is a very profound scripture verse that says ” where there is a lack of knowledge my people perish” Thank you for giving a voice crying out for the many lost in the wilderness of despair..truly your work and passion for Brain health is God’s GPS for coming out of the wilderness into the light!

    Comment by Joni — July 12, 2019 @ 5:03 AM

  6. Social media among our nation’s youth has become part of our culture. Excess use of social media use has also been associated with suicide. We have struggled with this in our own family. Using social media and becoming addicted to using social media and the ramifications of using social media in our teenage population I believe will probably come out as one of the major causes of increased suicide rates in our nation’s youth.

    Comment by Dawn Jonine Dozhier — July 12, 2019 @ 5:12 AM

  7. I work in the mental health medical field. Wile I agree that brain disorders should receive the very best diagnostic studies, not all patients have entitlements that allow for scans of the kind you mention. Mental health clinics are vital and we do our very best without these tools. Thanks for the opportunity to give feedback. hopefully underfunded programs will someday be better supported

    Comment by Stephanie RN, LNC — July 12, 2019 @ 7:23 AM

  8. Here we go again blaming others other than our poor decisions. The arrivle includes marijuana as a problem but the young of today are pushing to have legal marijuana throughout our country. The article says mental health services are too old no that is not it. Many years ago the various governments closed down or decreased spending money for mental health programs. Another issue is parenting where they allow their children to do whatever they want and you dare not say anything for it is your fault.

    Comment by Bob Robertson — July 12, 2019 @ 7:39 AM

  9. More than half of mental health issues, and I would guess half of child suicides too, can now be traced back to divorce judges awarding sole custody. SOle custody is highly profitable for both Lawyers and all 50 state judicial systems because all 50 states get paid about 23% kickbacks on the child support they order and collect. A clear conflict of interest in every case.

    Biological fathers being driven out of the lives of children creates mentially unhealthy kids and a 460% increase in suicide rates. Virtually every pathology skyrockets. Yet some judges and states order up to 91% sole custody! It is destroying the family and institution of marriage too.

    The data shows clearly that sole custody is child abuse with 20 different social pathologies increasing between 660% and 2,400% each for a cumultive total of 14,600%. See some sources and statistics here: Here are some of these stats – Children from fatherless homes are:

    – 15.3 times more likely to have behavioral disorders
    – 4.6 times more likely to commit suicide. 63% from fatherless homes.
    – 6.6 times more likely to become teenaged mothers
    – 24.3 times more likely to run away
    – 6.3 times more likely to be in a state-operated institutions
    – 10.8 times more likely to commit rape
    – 6.6 times more likely to drop out of school
    – 15.3 times more likely to end up in prison while a teenage
    – 73% of adolescent murderers come from mother only homes and over 93% of mass shooters do too.

    The psychology industry needs to stop supporting sole custody order in divorce courts and insist on equal custody as the “best interest of children”. Courts claim this is what they base their decisions only but after 14 years of study, observation and court watching I can assure you it is 90% about money and maybe 10% about gender bias. The data is very clear. Sole custody is child abuse, and parent abuse. Dr. Warren Farrell’s book Father and Child Reunion documents this looking at about 225 different studies in a 13 year metastudy.

    Unfortunately it is “politicall incorrect” to attack single mothers with sole custody. However, facts are facts. They are unknowingly abusing their children for the money, control and revenge it brings them. Call your congressman and ask that the Title IV-D program which pays kickbacks to judicial systems for sole custody be reformed or shut down completely.

    Comment by Robert Norton — July 12, 2019 @ 2:59 PM

  10. Does He have neuro Lyme n coinfection s .. Only see ILADs llmd or Amen can diagnose from brain scans too.. Western Blot very inaccurate

    Comment by Michelle Frankie — July 13, 2019 @ 7:25 AM

  11. I would like to see your responses to the comments above. Although I know little to nothing about mental health, I don’t deny the seriousness of addressing it and exhausting avenues to avoid more complicated problems and suicide. Cost is a main concern and prohibitive for most people. I am firmly convinced that many of the health issues we face, including mental health, are self-induced or lifestyles of contributing factors. Poor eating habits and lack of exercise are only a couple, not to mention a close relationship with God. It’s time we take some personal responsibility and help others learn to help themselves. God made us to work and think and by allowing Him to lead and guide us, maybe we can eliminate some of these issues. I pray so.

    Comment by Pamela Bartosh — July 13, 2019 @ 7:25 AM

  12. Thank you Bob- the legalization of pot around this country will be a disservice- folks are so focused on money it will bring in- I have clients who have smoked the majority of their life and thought it caused no harm- I asked them to stop for a week- they can’t get over the clarity and truly seeing the world for the first time- we have ruined the earth and ocean – it needs to be cleaned- again for monetary gain- kids get Mrsa if the go barefoot- we’ve scared them to death- folks won’t get it until- thank goodness there are folks trying to help- I do wish Dr Amen could lower the prices of the SPECT scans- I understand why he doesn’t do insurance-

    Comment by Susan — July 13, 2019 @ 8:09 AM

  13. Is there a way to get help at one of your clinics when a person has financial issues? We have a 26 yr old son who has adhd and now has psychosis from marijuana and adderal combined with this. He doesn’t even think anything is wrong. We need help before it’s too late!

    Comment by Nancy W. — July 14, 2019 @ 5:53 PM

  14. Hi – I am so sympathetic to this. One thing that I found extremely helpful was finding that the body’s methylation function was impaired so drugs don’t get to the brain as they are intended to. There is a gene called MTHFR that can be part of the issue. There are supplements that help a lot – one is called Deplin that can be prescribed by the Dr. I found SAMe at 600mg a Day helps more and has improved things greatly. Helps with the methylation function and also other things. You can check if it is counter indicated for any of the medications your son is taking. I hope that this can help. It may take a few weeks…yet mine helped right away.
    Also – like the other reply says, you can get brain spect imaging near you and then do a consult with Dr. Amen or one of his associates.

    Comment by AMH — July 15, 2019 @ 11:49 AM

  15. Hello Nancy, we’d like to have a Care Coordinator reach out to you to explain the options we have. We look forward to speaking with you, thank you for reaching out.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — July 19, 2019 @ 8:05 AM

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