Top Health Reasons Why Young People Die

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the three leading causes of death in young people, ages 15 - 24, are (in order) car accidents, homicides, and suicide. Addressing the health problems underlying these causes can be an important step in preventing these unnecessary deaths.


Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens, accounting for more than one in three deaths in young people, ages 15-24. Studies show that, per mile driven, teen drivers ages 16 to 19 are four times more likely than older drivers to crash.

According to the CDC, the following factors put teen drivers at risk:

  • Alcohol use. At all levels of blood alcohol concentration (BAC), the risk of involvement in a motor vehicle crash is greater for teens than for older drivers. In 2008, 25 percent of drivers ages 15 to 20 who died in motor vehicle crashes had a BAC of 0.08 g/dl or higher.
  • Risky behavior. The presence of male teenage passengers has been shown to increase the likelihood of risky driving behavior, including texting or talking on the phone. Among male drivers between 15 and 20 years of age who were involved in fatal crashes in 2005, 37 percent were speeding at the time of the crash and 26 percent had been drinking.
  • Not wearing a seat belt. In 2008, nearly three out of every four teen drivers killed in motor vehicle crashes after drinking and driving were not wearing a seat belt.
  • Underestimating dangerous situations. Teens are more likely than older drivers to underestimate dangerous situations or not be able to recognize hazardous situations. For example, teens are more likely than older drivers to speed and allow shorter headways (the distance from the front of one vehicle to the front of the next.)

Preventing Automobile Accidents

The most important factor in preventing automobile accidents among young people is addressing the issue of drunk driving. While driving drunk can look like typical teen behavior or par for the course, it can also can indicate a substance abuse disorder. If you suspect a substance abuse disorder in your teen or feel your teen is at risk, contact a health professional right away to discuss treatment options. This important step may be the one that saves your teen's life.


Homicide is the second leading cause of death among teenagers, with far more victims being male. Studies show that nearly three-quarters of homicides among young people are attributed to gang violence.

According to the CDC, some factors that increase the chances that a teen will be a victim of violence or homicide are:

  • Involvement in gangs or fighting 
  • Low parental involvement 
  • Discipline that is inconsistent, lax, or too harsh 
  • Use of drugs or alcohol by teen or parents 
  • A history of violence in the home 
  • Emotional problems/lack of self-control 
  • Injuring animals or people 
  • Lack of involvement in positive extracurricular activities 
  • Exposure to media violence 
  • Lack of economic opportunities in community/low income 
  • Poor performance in school, especially due to learning disorders

Mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorders are also major risk factors for homicide among young people.

Preventing of Homicide in Young People

Probably the most important factor in preventing homicide in young people is positive and healthy parental involvement. This includes consistent discipline, attention, communication, involvement in family activities, encouragement and setting a good example. If your teen is abusing or is at risk for drug and alcohol abuse, get professional help immediately. If there are issues of violence or abuse in your family, speak to a health professional immediately to get a referral for appropriate counseling (which may include family counseling). In severe cases or emergencies take your teen to an emergency room for help or contact 911.


Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, ages 15 - 24. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), there is a significant difference in suicide numbers between genders. Statistics show that while females think about attempting suicide twice as often as males, males ages 15 to 19 die by suicide over four times as often as females of the same age, and males ages 20 to 24 die by suicide more than six times as often as females of the same age.

Some experts think that the above numbers could be due to the fact that females have been shown to attempt suicide most commonly by overdosing on drugs or cutting themselves, while males have been shown to attempt suicide by more lethal methods such as firearms, hanging, or jumping from heights.

According to NIMH, risk factors for suicide include:

  • Depression and other mental disorders, or a substance-abuse disorder (More than 90 percent of people who die by suicide have these risk factors.)
  • Prior suicide attempt
  • Family history of mental disorder or substance abuse
  • Family history of suicide
  • Family violence, including physical or sexual abuse
  • Firearms in the home (the method used in more than half of suicides)
  • Incarceration
  • Exposure to the suicidal behavior of others, such as family members, peers, or media figures

Preventing Suicide

Probably the most important factor in preventing suicide in a young person is addressing depression and other mental disorders (including substance abuse).

There are many options focused on treating these disorders as well as addressing suicide risk directly. Talk to your doctor about these options and get help right away. Additionally, experts say that two-way communication between a troubled teen and his or her parents or persons of trust is extremely important in preventing teen suicide.

Note: If you feel that a young person you know is in a crisis situation and is at risk for accidental death, homicide, or suicide, seek immediate help from the nearest hospital or call 911. Furthermore, if you think someone is suicidal, do not leave him or her alone, and eliminate access to firearms or other potential tools for suicide, including unsupervised access to medications.


About Teen Suicide. Accessed January 11, 2010.

Brown GK, Ten Have T, Henriques GR, Xie SX, Hollander JE, Beck AT. Cognitive therapy for the prevention of suicide attempts: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2005 Aug 3;294(5):563-70.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Teen Drivers Fact Sheet. Accessed January 11, 2010.

Suicide in the US: Statistics and Prevention. National Institute of Mental Health. July 27, 2009. Accessed January 11, 2010.

Teen Homicide, Suicide and Firearm Death. Child Trends DataBank. Accessed January 11, 2010.

US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. Health Unites States, 2008, with Special Feature on the Health of Young Adults. DHHS Publication No. 2009-1232. March 2009.