There’s been an increase in suicide rates among teenagers in the United States that occurred at the same time social media usage increased, and researchers say there may be a link to the two.
Suicide is a serious public health issue that affects many young people and is the third largest cause of death for youth between the ages of 10-24, resulting in about 4,600 lives lost each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A study by the CDC doesn’t answer exactly why teen suicide has increased, but researchers suggest social media is one factor.
The study’s authors looked at CDC suicide reports from 2009-15 and results of two surveys given to U.S. high school students to measure attitudes, behaviors and interests, according to the CDC. About half a million teens ages 13-18 were involved.
They were asked about use of electronic devices, social media, print media, television and time spent with friends. Questions about mood included frequency of feeling hopeless and considering or attempting suicide.
The study was recently published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science. Data highlighted in the study include:
• Teens’ use of electronic devices, including smartphones, for at least five hours daily more than doubled from 8 percent in 2009 to 19 percent in 2015. These teens were 70 percent more likely to have suicidal thoughts or actions than those who reported one hour of daily use.
• In 2015, 36 percent of all teens reported feeling desperately sad or hopeless, or thinking about, planning or attempting suicide — up from 32 percent in 2009. For girls, the rates were higher — 45 percent in 2015 versus 40 percent in 2009.
• In 2009, 58 percent of 12th grade girls used social media every day or nearly every day; by 2015, 87 percent used social media every day or nearly every day. They were 14 percent more likely to be depressed than those who used social media less frequently.
As technology has increased, cyberbullying has become an increasing issue with many believing it’s causing more teens to commit suicide. Social media posts might depict teens having “perfect” lives, which might cause other teens to feel inadequate about their own lives.
Tammy King, executive director of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Johnson County, said using social media can be used in some positive ways but can also be used in negative ways.
“Kids feel pressured to respond to texts almost immediately,” King said. “If they don’t or unable to respond in what they believe is the appropriate timeline, they become incredibly stressed.”
She said children can also paint whatever picture they would like to of their lives.
“They put on their facades rather than being honest about any and all of their own insecurities, problems or issues,” she said. “Kids can also be incredibly cruel via smartphone. They can and will say things to other kids they wouldn’t say in person. It gives them the ability to say things without accountability, so they think.”
Once a group of children single out another child to harass or tease, she said it can be devastating.
“Kids just don’t seem to grasp the damage they inflict on peers, and sometimes it can seem they really don’t care about the harm they inflict,” she said. “Things always come full circle, but that may not happen in the time frame we all desire.”
Parents need to always stress to children that hard times are temporary, she said.
“Things can seem horrible, but it will pass and you will get through this,” she said. “Kids need to have their hurt and fears validated, know they are loved and that they are supported. Parents need to have regular conversations with their kids to touch base. Kids need respite time away from all technology.
“They need to engage in real face to face conversations. If a child is acting depressed and isolating themselves, you may need to find an unbiased professional for them to talk with about their struggles. If a child ever discloses they intend to harm themselves, they need to be immediately evaluated.”
Signals that a young person may be contemplating suicide imminently include: thinking or talking about or threatening suicide; seeking a way to kill oneself; increased substance abuse; feelings of purposelessness, anxiety, being trapped or hopeless; withdrawing from people and activities; and expressing unusual anger, recklessness or mood changes, according to the CDC.
There are a number of suicide prevention efforts that are focused on detecting suicide warning signs.
Some efforts might include general suicide awareness education, school and community gatekeeper programs, screening and peer support programs, crisis centers and hotlines, restriction of access to lethal means, counseling and clinical interventions, and postvention — intervention with friends/family/community after a suicide takes place, according to the CDC.
Adults who supervise a young person can help prevent suicide by knowing the risk factors and warning signs listed above, asking a youth they are concerned about if he/she has been thinking about suicide and, if necessary, providing a referral and making sure the person gets appropriate help as soon as possible.
Information from this article came from the Associated Press.