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A new study published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science raises disturbing questions about the possible link between teen social media usage and teen suicide rates. It found a skyrocketing rate of teen suicide in the period from 2010-2015, as well as increases in risk factors such as teen depression and thoughts of suicide. The study looked at federal government data, as well as surveys of more than 500,000 teens in the United States, and found what appears to be a very clear link between social media usage and teen suicide rates.
A closer look at the numbers
Of course, as they say in the world of statistics, correlation is not always causality. In other words, just because the rise in teen suicide rates has correlated with the rise in social media usage, it does not imply that social media is responsible for teen suicide rates skyrocketing in recent years. Teen psychologists point to a number of other issues that might be to blame, such as physical and sexual abuse, drug and alcohol use, family problems, and the rise in mood disorders.
That might be the case, but it’s hard to miss the link between social media and teen suicide. Study after study has shown the direct link between expanded social media usage and teen depression. For example, one study found that teens who use their digital devices more than 5 hours per day are 70 percent more likely to have thoughts of suicide. Moreover, high school girls who use social media daily are 14 percent more likely to feel depressed than those who use it only sparingly. And rates of teenage depression are increasing – not decreasing – at the same time as teen social media usage is off the charts. Right now, teen suicide is the No. 2 cause of death for teens.
Are social media platforms to blame?
At this point, of course, it’s only logical to ask: Does social media have a teen suicide problem? Teens are going through a formative period in their lives, and exactly at the moment when they are most vulnerable, they are exposed to cyberbullying, trolling and body shaming (if not worse). Scrolling through page after page of social media feeds where people seem to live “perfect” lives, they may begin to think that their own lives just can’t compare. That would help to explain the rise in teen depression.
And, if you think about it, social media can become a real enabler of suicide. It’s no longer uncommon, for example, to hear about “live” suicides streamed on social media, or about suicide pacts between people that are made on social media. Social media also helps to encourage copycat suicides, mostly because any truly gruesome or tragic suicide is likely to go viral online.
Social media needs to take responsibility
It’s clear that social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram need to be doing a better job of monitoring content that is being posted, and then becoming more proactive about helping teens deal with depression and thoughts of suicide. Instead of focusing on maximizing profits and delivering more online ads, they should be taking a closer look at the rise in teen suicide rates and taking appropriate steps. There is a young generation that is getting lost and more awareness of this problem is needed.