Recently I read an article on the link between social media and increasing suicide rates among young girls. As a researcher, writer, and therapist, this is something I have been focusing on for the past year. The article got me thinking about a presentation I recently gave to parents on social media.
Statistically our children and young adults are not doing well. In fact they are doing terribly. Depression, anxiety, self-injurious behavior, suicidal ideation, and suicides are all up dramatically in the past decade.
Right now we are talking about the opioid epidemic in the U.S. As a substance abuse therapist I am glad that we are having that dialogue. It helps shed light on what is going on. However I am concerned that we aren’t talking nearly enough about teen and young adult suicide.
15% of deaths among our 15-24 year old population are caused by alcohol and drugs. However 18% of deaths for this same population are caused by suicide. In fact, suicide is the 2nd leading causer of death among this age group overall. Clearly this is something that we need to talk about.
Suicide is on the Rise
The suicide rate for while children and teens has increased by 70% from 2006 to 2016. Suicide rates for teen boys has increased by 30%. Suicide rates for teenage girls is the highest it’s been in 40 years. Visits to pediatric hospitals for patients between the ages of 5 to 17 for suicide thoughts has doubled. The group that is at the highest risk for suicide is white males between the ages of 14 and 21.
Recently the high school and middle school in Chatham conducted a survey on suicidal ideation among the students. They found that 4% of middle school students reported thinking about suicide in the previous year. I was shocked by how high that percentage was. I said to myself “well at least it will be lower among the high school students.” Wrong. 8% of the high school students reported they contemplated suicide in the previous 12 months. We have a serious problem occurring with our youth and young adults.
Factors Contributing to Suicide: Social Media
Traditionally factors such as loneliness and depression can lead to suicide. To determine if these were contributing to the increases in suicide rates I looked at research on loneliness and depression. In particular I was interested in social media and its link to loneliness and depression.
Research shows that loneliness rates have doubled in the United States. Studies have shown that spending more time on social media everyday increases loneliness.
The University of Pennsylvania found a direct link between depression and social media use. They found that the longer you spend on social media, the more depressed you become.
Why Social Media Can Lead to Depression and Loneliness
Loneliness and depression are clear contributing factors to suicide. I also see a clear link between social media and suicide.
Our youth and young adults today interact with each other on social media. While this isn’t a bad thing in itself, it is when this becomes their primary means of interacting with others. They lack interpersonal communication skills and are not able to form true deep and meaningful relationships with each other.
Additionally they focus on comparing what they feel internally to what others “post” on social media. They forget that most people are posting on their highlights in life (i.e. when things are going good). A client once said to me once, “When I look at other people’s social media it is like they are having the best day of their life every day.”
Our youth and young adults are being constantly bombarded with filtered photos that don’t show the humanness of humanity. They start to feel that they aren’t “as good” or “as popular” or “as pretty” as others. They start to feel lonely and depressed. This vicious cycle doesn’t stop and they feel worse and worse. Eventually they look a way out. Sadly some find one.
What do I do if I am Concerned About My Loved One
If you have any concerns please reach out to a mental health professional immediately. Suicidal ideation is not something to be taken lightly. Make sure to check in on your kids and see how they are doing. Do not rely on their social media feed to tell you how they are actually feeling. Do not assume that suicide stops once kids reach college. It doesn’t. Please reach out to us here at NJFAI if you have any questions.