4 Reasons Suicide Is Increasing Among Young Adults

Suicide is back in the news again.

After seven of its students committed suicide, a Colorado school district last month temporarily pulled from its libraries 13 Reasons Why, the young adult fiction book turned Netflix television teen drama that critics say glamorizes suicide.

The book chronicles the suicide of Hannah Baker, a high school junior who leaves behind thirteen cassette tapes explaining her reasons for committing suicide.

Like Hannah Baker, many young adults are turning to suicide as an escape from the pressures of life. From 2000 to 2015, the suicide rate increased 27% among those aged 20 to 35 (the U.S. average suicide rate among all age groups increased by almost 21% during the same time period). Washington State’s suicide rate is 16% higher than the national average.


Two Factors That Fail To Explain The Increasing Suicide Rate

Many experts blame increased economic hardship and inadequate mental health services for the recent rise in suicide. However, these easy explanations misrepresent available data and fall short of adequately explaining the troubling trend.

From a material perspective, life on earth has never been better. Thanks to global trade and extraordinary technological advances, Americans today enjoy a higher standard of living, greater economic security, longer life expectancy, less crime, and more leisure than any other people throughout history. Even the poorest among us live far more prosperous lives than our richest grandparents could have imagined. And let us not forget that Americans living in poverty still boast a higher living standard than the average European.

Additionally, the recent increase in suicide cannot be blamed on undersupplied mental health services. Both federal and state governments have progressively increased mental health funding over recent decades (paradoxically, the inefficient and inflexible bureaucracy created to administer mental health programs and treatments may make it more difficult for those struggling with mental health conditions to receive the care they need).

In exclusively focusing on economic circumstances and mental health funding, we ignore profound cultural shifts that better explain rising suicide rates.


Four Reasons Suicide Is Increasing Among Young Adults

Here are four factors likely contributing to the significant increase in suicide among young Americans:

Delayed Marriage: More than ever before, young people are choosing to delay marriage or forgo it entirely. In 1960, the median age at first marriage was 22.8 for men and 20.3 for women, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Today, the median age at first marriage has increased to 29.5 for men and 27.4 for women. Almost half of 34-year-olds have never been married.

These unmarried millennials sacrifice the benefits that come with being united to a committed partner in marriage. A survey of scientific literature conducted by the Marriage and Religion Research Institute found that married individuals are healthier, happier, and more financially secure than their unmarried peers. They experience greater emotional and psychological well-being than those who are unmarried. Notably, married individuals are less likely to commit suicide.

Increased Worker Mobility: Americans move for work more often than Europeans. Although greater worker mobility boosts the economy and results in better matching of employees and jobs, it can also cause individuals to become detached from communities that help provide belonging, happiness, and emotional and financial support.

Researchers have discovered a link between residential mobility and suicide. “Indeed, residential mobility can be associated with higher levels of stress, crime, poor health, and what sociologists call ‘social disorganization,’” writes Ryan McMaken for the Mises Institute.

Decreased Religiosity: Young Americans have increasingly disconnected from religious institutions over the last few decades, choosing instead to live according to their own “personalized spirituality” or rejecting religion entirely.

A Pew Research Center study published two years ago found that only 28% of millennials born between 1981 and 1996 attend religious services weekly, significantly less than 51% of the Silent Generation (those born between 1928 and 1945). Younger millennials are also less likely to believe in God (80%) and consider religion to be an important part of their lives (38%).

Unfortunately, by eschewing involvement in religious communities, millennials sacrifice the kinship and solidarity those communities provide. Religion helps provide meaning to life, and religious communities equip individuals with the relationships and support necessary to withstand life’s treacherous seas.

Unsurprisingly, religiously unaffiliated individuals had “significantly more lifetime suicide attempts” than their religiously affiliated peers, according to a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry. The study’s authors also concluded that “subjects with no religious affiliation perceived fewer reasons for living, particularly fewer moral objections to suicide.”

Postmodernism: Millennials attain higher levels of education than previous generations. This makes them more susceptible to postmodernism, the prevailing worldview taught in higher education.

Postmodernism posits that reality is unknowable and meaningless. In attempting to overthrow traditional values, postmodernism dispenses with objective and transcendent truths that provide individuals with a realistic framework through which to perceive the world. Postmodernists sort everyone into one of two groups: the oppressors and the victims, the latter of which suffer from systemic societal and cultural oppression at the hands of the former.

Survey data indicate a considerable number of millennials have bought into the postmodern worldview propagated by their colleges and universities. Only 40% of those under age 35 believe “right and wrong never change,” and just 4% of millennials hold to a biblical worldview.

Philosopher Richard M. Weaver observed decades ago that “ideas have consequences.” Teaching the next generation that life is meaningless, truth is unknowable, and that tradition and conventional wisdom must be discarded yields predictable results. Such a corrosive worldview will only produce rotting fruit.


There Is No Easy Fix

Suicide is increasing because our culture has lost its moorings. We need to acknowledge that the exploding suicide rate among Americans and Washingtonians will not be solved through a growing economy or greater mental health funding. As long as individuals continue to disconnect from the relationships, communities, and truth that provide meaning to life, suicide will continue becoming more prevalent.

There is no easy fix. Reversing the trend depends on effectively confronting the lies accepted by culture and society fueling hopelessness and social disorganization. We must also work to ensure our communities can successfully provide for the material, emotional, and spiritual needs of their members.

Blaine Conzatti is a columnist and research fellow at the Family Policy Institute of Washington. He can be reached at Blaine@FPIW.org.

17 replies
  1. Brett Stanley
    Brett Stanley says:

    This is a good analysis of the youth suicide problem. Most other sources have absolutely no clue. I think there’s another factor that’s missing. If you look at youth suicide rates: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2207007-us-suicide-rate-at-its-highest-since-the-end-of-the-second-world-war/, they start going up sharply in 2013.
    The state of the economy doesn’t explain it, but the introduction of two things in 2012 may contribute: Tinder and Instagram. Tinder obviously dumps gasoline directly on the “Delayed Marriage” factor, but these wicked devices are generally harmful to the mental well-being of their users in other ways. I can’t imagine anything that commodifies and dehumanizes people more than Tinder does, short of just auctioning off your body (probably coming in a few years).
    Instagram’s entire existence is based around users seeing various vanities, feeling bad about themselves, and then clicking on ads. This process is fully automated and optimized. TV ads with unachievable lifestyles or bodies have *nothing* on Instagram beaming this directly into kids brains.

  2. Barbara
    Barbara says:

    I lost my son and daughter in 2012. My son of 32 years old shot and killed my daughter 29 years old. I still cant figure out what happened. Help me

    • Samuel Vanderburg
      Samuel Vanderburg says:

      Barbara, I do not know where you are, but the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has support groups across the country. Check out their website at afsp.org. They are an excellent group which I am proud to be a volunteer for.

    • Samuel Vanderburg
      Samuel Vanderburg says:

      Not even funny and a comment which I am surprised is still here. Suicide is a very poor answer tot he question. There is plenty of help available if people can be pointed to it. A main identifier for a suicidal possibility is isolation and hopelessness. The main way to counter that is for us to check on our friends and keep an eye on each other. If one has no one to turn to, start with the crisis line at 1-800-273-8255 or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org inline. I care. Many others care, including the publishers of this page.

  3. Mary Moen-Tague
    Mary Moen-Tague says:

    We’ve (my husband of 25 yrs. and my younger daughter, have always been Christians. My eldest, 22 yr. old, Tyler committed suicide last March in her walk-in closet by suspension hanging! Guess who found her – with eyes bulging out and a purple tongue sticking out of her gorgeous mouth – she was unrecognizable and utterly dead; although when I took her down, she was warm to the touch. Tyler’s facial features and the fact that she had no alternative she thought could sustain her in this life haunts my husband, daughter (who is in major therapy) and myself will never be able to answer. Even her best friend ;who lived w/us here & slept w/her every night for 4 straight years never heard the word depression cross her lips? We are all here, 9 months later, still confused, heartbroken & severly angry for such a beautiful, smart, fascinating young woman would see no way out other than killing herself?! I’m left with what my therapist told me recently: “Sane people run from death automatically. It’s in our nature to survive. An insane or temporarily insane person sees no distinction”. God Bless us one & all who have experienced this trauma we shall never recover from.

    • Samuel Vanderburg
      Samuel Vanderburg says:

      I trust you are receiving support to help you through this trauma even more than a year later. Please reach out to someone – even reply to this comment – if you are not getting any support. What a tremendous thing to bear. Praying for you even now.

  4. Carol V.
    Carol V. says:

    My 18-yr-old son has been struggling with suicidal thoughts, yet he seems to fit none of these reasons. He is involved in his youth group at church. We live in a fairly conservative area without a lot of the liberal indoctrination occurring in his school. We have lived in the same home ever since he was one year old, so there is no mobility issue. We have never experienced economic hardship. His father and I have been married for 19 years and have never separated. No abuse, alcoholism, or anything of that nature in the home. He has been seeing a mental health counselor for several months now, yet the anger, depression, and suicidal thoughts remain. Perhaps it is a medical issue that needs to be addressed instead of a psychological one. Please pray for him. Thank you.

    • Randy Steeg
      Randy Steeg says:

      Carol V. We just read your comment about your son and the answers you are looking for can not be found in secular society and psycological reasoning. Unfortunately the majority of the churches have gone this way and the youth groups usually are of no help.
      The answer is in Ephesians 6:10-18, put on the whole Armor of God because your son is battling against spiritual wickedness. It starts with the Truth. Jesus is the Truth. You and he must seek to love the Lord Jesus and come to know him. Second, is His Righteousness. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead proving He is righteous. Which means, He will hear you. These first two pieces of Armor are critical in this order. Prayer and crying out for mercy(supplication) is the last piece in the Armor. The spiritual wickedness attacking your son must be addressed with the Word of God in Truth and love.
      We have had to deal with these kinds of spiritual battles in our family over the last three years and still fighting against these wicked ones. In order to stand against this wickedness attacking your son, it is critical to love, study and pray this Armor of God. May the Lord strengthen you.

        • Rick
          Rick says:

          Jay you r part of the problem not the solution it is obvious that you don’t know God or his power. You are part of the educated fools always learning but never knowing the truth

        • Ruby Gallagher
          Ruby Gallagher says:

          God does most certainly cure mental health issues! Your response is without education (read your Bible) and really unkind. God can and does cure all sorts of illnesses including mental health issues. I will put her and her son in my prayers everyday and I will put you in my prayers. God loves us

    • OneOfThemTharEducatedLiberals
      OneOfThemTharEducatedLiberals says:

      Has he acted out or attempted to rebel at all during his teen years? If not, helicopter parenting may be the issue…even the prodigal was allowed to go for a walk. Life may be so predictable or monotonous that your son sees no point (or escape) and is possibly even experiencing depression exacerbated by pubescent hormone spikes.
      He is 18, if he’s looking at colleges let him pick a couple out of state ones. If your freaking out over that prospect, that’s a good heli-parenting tip off. He’s growing into his own person.

    • Ruby Gallagher
      Ruby Gallagher says:

      I will pray for you every single day of my life. Know in your heart words are going to God’s ear on your behalf daily.


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