April 17th, 2005

Teen magazines blamed for rise in girls' suicide

By Mark Macaskill
The Times

Depression and low self- esteem are fuelling a dramatic rise in suicides among teenage girls in Scotland, a government-funded study has revealed.

The suicide rate among young women aged 15-24 has risen more rapidly than in any other group.

The alarming trend is exposed in a study by academics at Glasgow University, which shows that the number of suicides has risen to nearly two a week — a rise of almost 50% over the past 20 years.

Leading academics and children’s campaigners are calling for urgent government action to tackle the problem, which they believe is fuelled by pressure on young women to conform to images of female perfection in teenage magazines.

A recent survey of 2,000 teenage girls in Britain found that 70% dislike their faces and only 8% are happy with their body. Two-thirds think their lives would improve dramatically if they lost weight. Most said they were made to feel bad about their bodies by images of “perfect” celebrities.

The issue will also be raised with ministers by NASUWT Scotland, the country’s largest teachers’ union, which is concerned that exam pressure may be causing some teenage girls to take their own lives.

“While mortality has decreased over a 20-year period for females, there are significant increases in younger age groups and the majority are due to suicide,” said Kate Levin, who led the study by the university’s social and public health sciences unit.

“If you compare female suicides with men, you’ll find numbers are lower but increasing at a faster rate in younger age groups. I think it’s being missed because people focus on male suicides as being the major problem.”

Maggie Mellon, director of the charity Children 1st, added: “We need to know what kind of young women are committing suicide and what their circumstances are because it’s clearly an issue the executive and health department will have to take note of.

“The executive will have to tackle an emerging vulnerability among young women. There’s been a lot of fuss about teenage magazines, there’s a relentless pressure on girls to look sexy and be clever.”

The study — which will be published in the Journal of Social Science and Medicine in June — also shows that the number of men who commit suicide in Scotland has risen by 37% over the past two decades.

Those most at risk are aged between 20 to 24 and live in rural areas, where the most common methods of suicide are hanging, strangulation and poisoning.  Between 1981 and 2001, the number of men who took their own lives each year rose from 472 to 646.

The extent of the problem was highlighted recently by a spate of suicides in the Highland fishing village of Cromarty where four men have hanged themselves in the past year.

Earlier this month, Martin Morrison, 19, hanged himself from the joists of a pontoon in Cromarty harbour. His body was found by a passer-by.

His death followed those of Mark Thow, 40, who committed suicide in April 2004, Ivor Robertson, 35, who was found dead at his home two weeks later, and Richard Burnside, 36, who committed suicide last August.

The three men were friends and played for the same amateur football team.

The apparently motiveless deaths have shocked the tight-knit community. Suicide clusters are thought to occur in small communities where one death can prompt others at a low ebb to take their own lives.

Government figures show rural areas have the highest suicide rates in the country — the national average for Scotland is 21 deaths per 100,000 compared with 29 in the Highlands and Shetland Isles, 27 in West Dubartonshire and 26 in the Western Isles. More than 50 people killed themselves in the Highlands last year.

In 2003, 560 people — 413 men and 147 women — died from “intentional self-harm”. Preliminary figures for 2004 indicate that the death toll will rise further despite a pledge by ministers to reduce Scotland’s suicide rate by 20% between 2003 and 2013.

Neil Gillies, spokesman for the Highlands and Islands Support Group for Grieving Families, said: “The authorities have to take this increase on board. We feel more can be done to establish why this is happening. Families need answers.”

Comments

  1. Posted by Charmaine Walters on August 4th, 2005

    Do you have any information on mentoring support groups for young people at risk of suicide and deliberate self-harm?

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