Report: Tennessee ranks among top child suicide rates nationwide

Note: This story discusses self-harm. If you are at risk, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for support at 1-800-273-8255. You can also text the Suicide and Crisis Line at 988 to connect with help.

Tennessee ranked in the 20 top states for suicide rates in children ages 9-17, according to a new report. Additionally, the rate for suicides carried out with a firearm in that same age group is in the top 10 nationally.

The Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, an independent, nonpartisan state agency, detailed the latest trends in its State of the Child in Tennessee 2023 report released Monday. The suicide rates reflect data gathered in 2021.

The report also shows other alarming trends when it comes to youth mental health in Tennessee, including an increase in all categories of suicidal ideation among Tennessee high schoolers since 2017. Meanwhile, the report showed that 32% of Tennessee's public school districts had no psychological professionals on staff during the 2021-22 school year, while another 24% had only one.

The National Association of Social Work standards call for at least one psychological support staff member per 250 students. In the 2022-23 school year, the report showed that 511 social workers were serving 975,545 students — which works out to a ratio of one social worker per 1,909 students.

Here are four more key takeaways from the report.

A snapshot of mental health for high schoolers

Here are a few more key statistics and numbers the report highlighted on the mental health of youth in Tennessee. The data points reflect information gathered in 2021.

  • Nearly three in 10 high schoolers said their mental health was not good "most of the time" or "always" over the previous month, with poor mental health far more prevalent among high school girls.

  • Over the course of a year, 53% of high school girls and 30% of high school boys said they felt sad or hopeless almost every day for two or more weeks. That number marks a 63% increase from 2011.

  • Over the course of a month, one in three high school girls said they had gone without eating for 24 hours or more; taken diet pills, powders or liquids; or reported vomiting, taking laxatives, smoking cigarettes or skipping meals to lose weight or avoid gaining weight.

Firearms leading cause of death for Tennessee youth

In 2021, firearms were the leading cause of death for Tennessee children ages 1-17. That works out to one in four deaths for children in that age group.

That same year, Tennessee ranked 10th nationally for homicide victims under age 18. It also ranked seventh nationally for homicides using a firearm with victims under 18.

How economics affect Tennessee families

Overall child poverty rates in Tennessee continued to decline between 2018 and 2022, the reported showed. As of 2022, 17.6% of children were living in poverty, down from 18.1% the year before. However, the child poverty rate for children under age 5 saw an uptick in 2022 after steadily declining from 2018-2021.

The report also detailed the supplemental poverty measure, which takes a more comprehensive look at how families are doing economically, considering things like government assistance, expenses and location. Nationally, that rate had an unprecedented drop from 2019 through 2021 due to the child tax credit. However, that tax credit expired in 2022, leading to a return to pre-pandemic levels on the supplemental poverty measure scale.

In Tennessee, supplemental poverty measure data is only available in three-year increments. It showed a steady decline from 2016 until 2022 in Tennessee. Here's how it broke down:

  • 2016-2018: 11.5%

  • 2017-2019: 11%

  • 2018-2020: 10.8%

  • 2020-2022: 8.3%

Test scores see post-pandemic gains

Scores on the state's standardized tests, known as the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, have been closely watched as schools work to offset learning loss driven by the coronavirus pandemic. Here's what the 2023 TCAP scores revealed for each grade level grouping:

  • Elementary school: The number of elementary school students who scored as "met" or "exceeded" expectations on the math and English language arts sections of the TCAP increased from the previous year, marking an upward trend from a low in 2021. While ELA scores surpassed pre-pandemic levels reported in 2019, math scores still lagged behind.

  • Middle school: The number of middle school students who scored as "met" or "exceeded" expectations on the math and English language arts sections of the TCAP continued an increase from previous years. However, while ELA scores surpassed pre-pandemic levels, math scores still lagged behind.

  • High school: The number of high school students who scored as "met" or "exceeded" expectations on the math and English language arts sections of the TCAP both saw gains from previous years. However, students who earned passing math scores only went up from 22% in 2022 to 23% in 2023. Passing ELA scores posted much higher rates, increasing from 40% in 2022 to 43% in 2023.

See the full report for yourself

State of the Child 2023 by USA TODAY Network on Scribd

Find the full report and learn more at tn.gov/TCCY/StateOfTheChild.

Reach reporter Rachel Wegner at RAwegner@tennessean.com or follow her on Twitter, Threads and Bluesky @RachelAnnWegner.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Tennessee ranks among top child suicide rates nationwide | Report