Suicide among American youngsters and teens fell about 25 percent in the last decade, reflecting a dramatic dropoff in gun suicides, the government said Thursday.

In fact, hanging and other forms of suffocation — including use of belts, ropes or plastic bags — overtook self-inflicted shootings in the 1990s as the most common method of suicide among 10- to 14-year-olds, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (search) said.

CDC researchers did not immediately know why the overall rate dropped, but a specialist in adolescent medicine said new safety measures for keeping guns out of children's hands and greater acceptance of gays may have played important roles.

Sexual orientation has been a factor in many suicides among young males, said Dr. Charles Wibbelsman, chief of The Teenage Clinic of Kaiser Permanente (search) in San Francisco.

"There are shows (concerning gays and lesbians) today that weren't on nine years ago," said Wibbelsman, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics' (search) committee on adolescents. "It's been much more 'Out' and in that respect, we've saved a lot more people's lives."

The suicide rate for those ages 10 to 19 fell from 6.2 deaths per 100,000 people in 1992 to 4.6 per 100,000 in 2001, the CDC said. The number of suicides also fell in that period, from 2,151 to 1,883.

The decrease in gun suicides was most dramatic among children 10 to 14, dropping from 172 in 1992 to 90 in 2001. Among those 15 to 19, deaths from self-inflicted shootings dropped from 1,251 to 838 during the same period, the CDC said.

Trigger locks, lock boxes and other measures for keeping guns out of youngsters' hands have become more common in recent years, but CDC officials said they did not know whether that accounts for the decrease in suicides.

The number of suicides by hanging or other forms of suffocation, meanwhile, rose among young people from 1992 to 2001.

Such methods of suicides — including use of belts, ropes or plastic bags — rose from 96 to 163 in that period among youngsters 10 to 14.

Among teens ages 15 to 19, suicides by suffocation rose from 333 deaths to 551.

CDC researchers said they were surprised by the switch in suicide methods and said they first noticed the trend in the early 1990s. By the end of the decade, suffocations had surpassed self-inflected shootings.

The nation's suicide rate among all age groups also has dropped in recent years, although it rose from 10.44 deaths per 100,000 in 2000 to 10.69 per 100,000 in 2001.