Importance: Disparities by sex and racial/ethnic group in suicide death rates are present in US adolescents. Whether disparities in suicide death extend to groups targeted for suicide prevention efforts, namely, those with suicidal ideation or nonfatal suicide attempts, is unknown.

Objective: To examine differences in temporal trends between suicidal ideation and suicide attempts in US adolescents from 1991 through 2019 by sex and race/ethnicity subgroups.

Design, Setting, and Participants: A cross-sectional analysis of the national Youth Risk Behavior Survey, weighted to represent US adolescents from 1991 to 2019, included 183 563 US high-school students in grades 9 to 12. Data were analyzed from September 16, 2020, through April 12, 2021.

Exposures: Calendar year, sex, race/ethnicity, and interactions of sex and race/ethnicity.

Main Outcomes and Measures: Survey-weighted prevalence estimates, annual percentage changes (APCs) and average APC in the survey-weighted prevalence of suicidal ideation and nonfatal suicide attempts, constructed from self-reported suicidal ideation, plan, and attempts in each survey year, by sex, race/ethnicity (non-Hispanic White, non-Hispanic Black, Hispanic, non-Hispanic Asian or Pacific Islander and Native Hawaiian, American Indian/Alaska Native), and their interactions (sex × race/ethnicity).

Results: In 183 563 (unweighted) included adolescents (mean [SD] age, 16.07 [1.23] years; 94 282 females [weighted percentage, 49.4%; 95% CI, 48.8%-50.1%]), the prevalence of suicidal ideation decreased from 1991 to 2019 (from 19.4% to 15.8%; 95% CI, 0.7%-0.9%), whereas the prevalence of nonfatal suicide attempts increased from 1991 to 2019 (from 7.3% to 8.9%; 95% CI, 1.0%-1.4%). Joinpoint regression indicated a -3.1% (95% CI, -3.7% to -2.6%) annual decrease in suicidal ideation between 1991 and 2009, followed by a 3.4% annual increase (95% CI, 1.9% -4.8%) between 2009 and 2019. Decreasing followed by increasing trends in suicidal ideation showed modestly different turning points in female (1991-2009, 2009-2019), White (1991-2009, 2009-2019), Hispanic (1991-2007, 2007-2019), and Black (1991-2005, 2005-2019) adolescents. Although no significant trends were observed in suicide attempts from 1991 through 2019, male (68.4% increase; 95% CI, 0.2% -1.2%) and Black (79.7% increase; 95% CI, 0.1%-1.5%) adolescents had greater increases in the prevalence of suicide attempts. Interaction of sex and race/ethnicity revealed increases in suicidal ideation in White females from 2009 to 2019 (APC, 4.3%; 95% CI, 1.5%-7.1%), Black females from 2005 to 2019 (APC, 3.4%; 95% CI, 1.4%-5.4%), and Hispanic females from 2009 to 2019 (APC, 3.3%; 95% CI, 1.0%-5.6%) and suicide attempts in White females from 2009 to 2019 (APC, 3.1%; 95% CI, 0.3%-6.0%).

Conclusions and Relevance: The findings of this study show apparent sex and racial/ethnic differences in trends in suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. Increases in suicidal ideation since 2009 were observed in female individuals; changes in male and Black adolescents represented the largest increase in the prevalence of suicide attempts between 1991 and 2019. Evidence-based suicide prevention programs need to be tailored by sex and race/ethnicity, calling for greater diversification of health care system, school, and community prevention approaches.

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Notes/Citation Information

Published in JAMA Network Open, v. 4, issue 6, e2113513.

© 2021 Xiao Y et al.

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the CC-BY License.

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