The Teen Suicide Epidemic & Social Media

The number of kids in the U.S. who visited emergency rooms for suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts has doubled in the last 10 years.  A new article in JAMA Pediatrics found that the number of children between 5 and 18 who received a diagnosis of suicidal ideation or suicide attempts increased from 580,000 in 2007 to 1.12 million in 2015.  The average age of a child at the time of evaluation was only 13, and 43% of the visits were in children between 5 and 11. Pretty alarming.

The authors also state that no conclusions can be drawn regarding the cause for the observed increase, which is likely multifactorial.  Possible reasons for the big increase include stress passed down from parents and caregivers, the rise of social media, and increasing rates of cyberbullying.

Is Social Media a Factor?

A study published in the journal  Clinical Psychological Science entitled Increases in Depressive Symptoms, Suicide-Related Outcomes, and Suicide Rates Among U.S. Adolescents After 2010 and Links to Increased New Media Screen Time found a disturbing possible link between teen social media usage and suicide.

The authors found what appears to be a very clear link between social media usage and teen suicide rates. Adolescents who spent more time on new media (including social media and electronic devices such as smartphones) were more likely to report mental health issues, and adolescents who spent more time on non-screen activities (in-person social interaction, sports/exercise, homework, print media, and attending religious services) were less likely.

The study establishes an association between suicide and social media use- which is different from establishing cause and effect…  but it’s hard to overlook the link between social media and teen suicide. Several other studies have shown the direct link between expanded social media usage and teen depression.

Another study from 2017 in  Clinical Psychological Science found teens who use their digital devices more than 5 hours per day are 70% percent more likely to have thoughts of suicide and high school girls who use social media daily are 14% more likely to feel depressed than those who use it only sparingly.