There were 1748 deaths by suicide in 2013 among teens aged 15 to 19 years old, and this number might actually be higher, as “some of these deaths may have been recorded as accidental.” With a new study by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) showing that suicide is now the second leading cause of death for adolescents. With social media becoming a daily ritual for most teenagers, the question of whether social media is to blame for the rise of suicide deaths is now being debated more than ever.
“Suicide risk can only be reduced, not eliminated,” writes AAP lead author, Benjamin Shain, MD, PhD, but if social media is to blame for this higher rate, then should teens be pulled out of this social craze?
The Risk Factors that Lead to Teen Suicides
The AAP lists a number of risk factors that lead to suicide attempts. These include “a family history of suicide, a history of physical or sexual abuse, mood disorders, drug and alcohol use, and lesbian, gay, bisexual or questioning sexual orientation or transgender identification. An important additional risk factor for suicide is bullying.”
Most of these factors are not determined by social media, except bullying. Social media has made it easier for us all to bully others. In fact, reports show that 43% of teens have reported being bullied online, compared to 19.6% of those at school. With teen suicide rates being higher, the correlation between these deaths and social media may not be so far off.
Bullying and Social Media
“Bullying has always been a major issue for adolescents, but there is now greater recognition of the connection between bullying and suicide,” Shain explains. Although cyberbullying happens online, it is nevertheless, “as serious” as face-to-face bullying. In fact, results from a survey given to approximately 2000 middle school children, “indicated that victims of cyberbullying were almost 2 times as likely to attempt suicide than those who were not.”
As parents, ensuring that our teens are not being cyberbullied is an essential form of prevention. This is especially important when statistics show that 81% of teens have admitted that it is easier to bully people online and only 1 in 10 admitted to telling an adult when they are being bullied.
Cyberbullying cannot be recognized as the only factor that causes suicide attempts in adolescents, however, “it can increase risk of suicide by amplifying feelings of isolation, instability, and hopelessness for those with preexisting emotional, psychological, or environmental stressors.”