In Depth

What is behind London’s spike in teen suicides?

The number of young people taking their own lives has soared in the English capital

Mental health

The rate of suicide among children and teenagers in London has more than doubled in just a few years, newly published figures have revealed.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), there were 29 suicides among people aged between ten and 19 in the capital in 2015-16, compared with 14 in 2013-14 - an increase of 107%.

The suicide rate is increasing far faster than in the remainder of England and Wales, where the total number of young people taking their lives rose by 24%, from 148 to 184, over the same period. 

The overall number of suicides, by people of all ages, registered in London increased by 48% in the three-year period, compared with an overall 3% decrease in England and Wales.

But what is driving the mental health crisis in the capital?

Teenage pressures

Barnardos warned last month that resources for children suffering mental health problems are so overstretched that some only receive help if they seriously self-harm or try to kill themselves, The Guardian says.

Javed Khan, the chief executive of the children’s charity, said young people’s mental health “had never been worse in the organisation’s 152-year history”. Funding cuts had forced a number of charities to abandon essential services, he added.

One of the main driving forces behind the rise in teenage suicide rates in many Western countries is the increase in social media exposure, according to experts.

A 2016 article by The Independent’s Geraldine Bedell warned that technology “can amplify problems or give them new forms of expression”, and that “cyberbullying can be particularly painful”.

“We need to stop thinking of smartphones as harmless,” says Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University who studies generational trends. “There’s a tendency to say, ‘Oh, teens are just communicating with their friends.’ Monitoring kids’ use of smartphones and social media is important, and so is setting reasonable limits.”

Capital crisis

The Independent reports that a number of experts have attributed the spike in London teenage suicides to the “over-pressured” environment facing youth in the city, and a feeling of hopelessness among those in the capital’s most deprived neighbourhoods.

Valentina Levi, adolescent psychotherapist at the city’s Brent Centre for Young People, said: “We have been flooded with cases over the past year and are really worried about what is happening out there with some of the young people we are seeing.

“Many young people from more deprived neighbourhoods really feel they have no hope in terms of the future they are facing, in terms of education and jobs. They don’t feel they have any hope of getting anywhere.”

Dr Maxim de Sauma, chief executive of the mental health support service, added: “People are much more over-pressured here than they are in other parts of the UK. Parents are less able to prioritise difficulties because they are under a lot of stress. It goes on from one generation to another, so the damage is continuous.”

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