Part One of a Two Part Series

In 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a mortality report that contained startling statistics relating to suicide deaths among children and teenagers. The statisticians at the CDC expected to see a decline in mortality within this population. Instead, they saw their numbers rise due to an increase in the suicide rate. In children and adolescents aged 10-19 years, the suicide rate is up 56% since 2007, with the biggest increase noted in females (Pirani, 2018).  By 2016, 92% of these suicides have been caused by suffocation, firearms, and poisoning (Pirani, 2018). Rates are also higher in impoverished areas (Bortz, 2019).

What is causing the increase in suicide in this age group? Curran and Hill (2019) argue that millennials are perfectionists and measurably are harder on themselves when compared to previous generations. They completed a research study where they examined over 40,000 college students, and found that most are driven by unrealistically high expectations rooted from themselves, society, and social media (Curran and Hill, 2019). Inability to meet these expectations cause intense feelings of disappointment and inadequacy.

Newer research is showing the harm caused by social media. Primack et al. (2017) measured perceived social isolation (PSI) amongst a sample of 1,787 individuals by measuring time spent on 11 social media platforms related to a PSI Measurement Scale. They found the participants in the highest 25% had three times greater PSI than those in the lowest 25% (Primack et al., 2017). Shah (2010) completed a cross-national study, and found a correlation between general population suicide rates by area, as related to the prevalence of internet users in the same areas.

Luxton, June, and Fairall (2012) consider social media and suicide to be a public health problem. There is an “immense quantity” of information on the topic of suicide available via social media, and groups even exist that will motivate and encourage one to kill themselves (Luxton, June, & Fairall, 2012). There are message boards and forums used to spread information on how to die by suicide, and groups that will help individuals become a part of a suicide pact (Luxton, June, & Fairall, 2012). Luxton, June, and Fairall (2012) also refer to the media contagion effect where social media, along with the internet, can influence behavior by spreading content related to suicide. This has been a problem that has worsened with the increasing popularity of YouTube, where individuals can film and post videos of self-harm, and even suicide (Luxton, June, & Fairall, 2012).

After a short literature review, the consensus among researchers is that cyberbullying is the most dangerous aspect of social media related to an increased risk of suicide. Cyberbullying is defined as “when a child or adolescent is intentionally and repeatedly targeted by another child or teen in the form of threats or harassments or humiliated or embarrassed by means of cellular phones or Internet technologies such as e-mail, texting, social networking sites, or instant messaging.” (Luxton, June, & Fairall, 2012) A research study by Hinduja and Patchin (2011) showed cyberbullying victimization rates ranged from 21% to 41% in adolescents. These authors also coined the phrase “cyberbullicide” as a way to define suicide as a result of cyberbullying. Hinduja and Patchin (2011) found, after a survey was given to 2000 middle school students, that victims of cyberbullying were almost 2 times as likely to attempt suicide than those who were not. While cyberbullying cannot specifically be identified as the sole predictor of suicide, it has been proven to increase risk by “amplifying feelings of isolation, instability, and hopelessness for those with preexisting emotional, psychological, or environmental stressors.” (Hinduja & Patchin, 2011)

What can be done to decrease suicides amongst children and adolescents? To be continued in Part Two of this series.

 

 

References

Bortz (2019). Rate of pediatric suicide higher in areas with more poverty higher in areas with more poverty. Retrieved from https://www.healio.com/pediatrics/developmental-behavioral-medicine/news/online/{d281df98-1b62-4d52-b803-cb5b43a29334}/rate-of-pediatric-suicide-higher-in-areas-with-more-poverty.

Curran, T., & Hill, A. (2018). Is perfectionism rising over time? A meta-analysis of birth cohort differences from 1989 to 2016. American Psychological Association, 145(4), 410–429. doi: 10.31234/osf.io/pkvxa

Hinduja, & Patchin. (2011). High-Tech Cruelty. Education Leadership, 68(5), 48–52.Luxton, D. D., June, J. D., & Fairall, J. M. (2012). Social Media and Suicide: A Public Health Perspective. American Journal of Public Health, 102(S2), 195–200. doi: 10.2105/ajph.2011.300608

Pirani, F. (2018). What’s killing America’s teens? Inside CDC’s new mortality report. Retrieved from https://www.ajc.com/news/national/what-killing-america-teens-inside-cdc-new-mortality-report/OeNlRXFCJqxZz5H7LsL5zJ/.

Primack, B. A., Shensa, A., Sidani, J. E., Whaite, E. O., Lin, L. Y., Rosen, D., … Miller, E. (2017). Social Media Use and Perceived Social Isolation Among Young Adults in the U.S. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 53(1), 1–8. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2017.01.010

Shah A. (2010). The relationship between general population suicide rates and the Internet: a cross-national study. Suicide Life Threat Behavior. 40(2):146-150