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BMJ 2008; 337 doi: (Published 09 September 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a1594

Youth suicide increases sharply in the US

The rate of suicide among young people in the US increased by almost a fifth between 2003 and 2004. To find out if the increase was just a chance anomaly, researchers analysed national data on suicides in children and teenagers reported between 1996 and 2005. They found an estimated 326 extra deaths in 2004 and an extra 292 deaths in 2005 among those aged 10-19. Rates of suicide in both years were statistically higher than expected. Trends were similar in girls and boys, and the excess deaths were evident in both younger and older age groups.

The researchers say the increases look real and follow a decade of steady decline in the rate of suicide among young people under 20 years. They urge the authorities to start looking for factors that might be to blame. Plausible candidates include increasing use of alcohol, the adverse influence on teenagers of social networking sites on the internet, and an increase in untreated depression secondary to recent regulatory warnings about giving antidepressants to adolescents.

Access to firearms may also be part of the problem, say two other commentators (N Engl J Med 2008;359:989-91). The link between having a gun at home and risk of suicide is compelling, particularly when a loaded gun is kept in an unlocked drawer or cupboard. A recent decision by the US High Court to overturn a ban on hand gun ownership in Washington DC can only make things worse, they write.

Exercise has a small but detectable effect on cognitive function

Exercise improves cardiovascular health, helps prevent diabetes, and makes people feel good. It even has a detectable effect on cognitive function in older people, according to a randomised trial from Western Australia. The 170 participants were volunteers with self reported mild memory problems and an average age of about 70. Half of them did an extra …

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