AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Deaths by suicide in the United States have been rising, and that includes among young people. A new study shows that the rate of suicide among teenage girls has been rising faster than boys. NPR's Rhitu Chatterjee reports.
RHITU CHATTERJEE, BYLINE: Suicide is the leading cause of death among children and adolescents in the United States, and boys are more likely to die by suicide than girls. But the new study finds that girls are catching up quickly.
DONNA RUCH: We saw a significant, disproportionate increase in female suicide rate.
CHATTERJEE: Donna Ruch is a researcher at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. She says the increase was highest for girls aged 10 to 14, rising by nearly 13% since 2007, while for boys, it only rose by 7%.
RUCH: That's where we saw the most significant narrowing of this gender gap, if you will.
CHATTERJEE: No one knows what's driving the trend, and it's likely to be a mix of factors, says Christine Moutier, the chief medical officer at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. But she says social media could be playing an important role.
CHRISTINE MOUTIER: Social media really cannot be ignored any longer.
CHATTERJEE: That's because, she says, the vast majority of children and adolescents are spending a lot of time plugged into their devices. And while social media can make them feel more connected to people in their lives, Moutier says studies show that it can also hurt their mental health.
MOUTIER: Heavy screen time, nighttime utilization that can disrupt sleep - people who have anxiety, depression or psychological vulnerabilities may have a more negative experience.
CHATTERJEE: And recent studies show that girls are more sensitive to the negative effects of social media, says Joan Luby. She's a psychiatrist at Washington University School of Medicine and wrote a commentary accompanying the new study, which was published in this week's JAMA Network Open.
JOAN LUBY: Girls are, more often than boys, cyberbullied on social media; that they tend to have much more negative psychological effects of that cyberbullying.
CHATTERJEE: They tend to get more depressed as a result. Luby says another reason why social media matters, not just for girls but for all children and adolescents, is that it has changed how kids interact with one another.
LUBY: They are now interacting through devices, and they're not having live in-person interaction.
CHATTERJEE: In-person interactions and social support, she says, are crucial protective factors against mental health issues, including suicide. Rhitu Chatterjee, NPR News.
CORNISH: And if you or someone you know may be considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.