Just a couple of weeks ago, I saw on social media that in my area, a teenager had just taken his own life. While in the past, this would have been just another story about a stranger that doesn’t have any effect on my life, this time (and many others lately), have really struck a chord with me.
There a couple of reasons for this. First, I happen to have two teenagers, and this is truly every parent’s worst fear. To say that I don’t worry about this frequently would be a lie. Second, I have been noticing more and more that I almost always know people who know the people who these horrible things are happening to. It turns out that many of my friends and family know the family of Blaze Bernstein, the college student who went missing in Orange County over winter break, only to be found dead. My heart breaks for any family that loses a child.
The same week that I heard about the suicide, I was at a sporting event at my children’s high school, and I was sitting near some of the girls. I asked the girls why they weren’t at their game, as I knew there had been a game scheduled. They told me that a boy from the school they were supposed to play against had just committed suicide, so all the games for that school had been cancelled.
I wondered if I heard that right. After all, I had just heard about the teenager near me committing suicide, and now there was another one even closer to home? There must be some mistake, I thought. Maybe I read something wrong on social media and we are actually talking about the same teen. I didn’t want to believe that two teens in my town could possibly have taken their own lives within a couple of days of each other.
This got me wondering. Have the teen suicide rates really risen as much as it seems like they have? Or is it just that with social media and 24 hour news channels that they are just getting more attention? So, I went to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website to get some data. And I must say, I am not at all happy with what I found. Quite frankly, it is scary. Here are some of the facts:
- Between 2007 and 2015, the rate of suicide among teenaged girls doubled
- Between 2007 and 2015, the rate of suicide among teenaged boys rose over 30%
- The rate of suicide among teenaged girls in 2015 was the highest in 40 years
- In 2015, suicide was the 2nd highest cause of death among those aged 15-24
- Only accidents caused more deaths than suicide in 2015 for this age range
I can’t help but wonder what accounts for this increase in the number of teen suicides. It would be too simple to say that since the use of smart phones has increased, so has the rate of suicide among teens, and therefore smart phones are the cause.
But increased screen time, and more importantly, social media certainly must play a role. Social media is hindering our teens’ communication skills as well as their coping skills. Furthermore, it allows them to say and do things they would never say or do in a face-to-face situation. Add that to the fact that information on social media travels very rapidly.
In past generations, you would have to call people or talk to them at school to get the latest gossip. Now, one hit of a button, and potentially thousands of people know or see something.
Many experts are saying that increased screen time and use of social media is causing teens to experience more anxiety and depression. It’s no wonder. If something embarrassing happens, chances are it was caught on video, posted to social media, and everyone know about it within minutes. Similarly, if someone says something unkind, bullies another teen, or starts a false rumor, it spreads very rapidly. And even the “good kids” get caught up in this. So, what can you do to combat it?
There are a few things you can do to help prevent teen suicide:
- Monitor your teens use of social media. Keep on talking about, and check their phones and their accounts to make sure things are appropriate.
- Talk to you your kids about what appropriate and inappropriate use of social media looks like. Remember that even “good kids” need to be reminded.
- Know who your teens idolize. Pay attention to what they are promoting.
- Talk a lot about depression, anxiety and suicide. Do not make it a taboo subject. Talking is the best prevention.
- Look for warning signs, such as self-deprecating or farewell posts on social media, or significant changes in mood, sleep, weight, grades, or friends.
- If you think your teen is anxious, depressed or suicidal, get help now. Find a counselor or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255