YOUTH SUICIDE NUMBERS
Suicide is the single leading cause of death amongst young people aged 15-24, with motor vehicle accidents coming in at a close second. And as youth suicide numbers continue to rise despite evolving intervention methods, parents are desperately looking for answers.
The typical risk factors listed for youth suicide are behavioural disorders, psychosocial problems, history of self-harm, family disruption and bullying. Males are three times more likely to die by suicide than females, with males accounting for 75.9% of suicides in Australia, according to recent data.
But interestingly, as more research shows the detrimental impact of social media on mental health, you cannot find “excessive social media use” as a listed risk factor for suicidality – anywhere.
So is it time to start including excessive social media use as a suicide risk factor? Maybe. There is still uncertainty when it comes to the causative relationship between suicide and social media use. But so far – the picture looks bleak.
SOCIAL MEDIA IMPACT
Social media has fundamentally changed the psyche of an entire generation. The world now reacts instantaneously and emotionally to current events that earlier generations had to patiently wait to learn about.
And this style of information dissemination has certainly had consequences.
2022 research published in Nature Communications found that UK adolescents with lower life satisfaction consistently use social media. Girls aged 11-13 and boys aged 14-15 were found to likely experience low life satisfaction and negative links to social media.
Dr Amy Orben, experimental psychologist and study author, told the University of Oxford, “The link between social media use and mental wellbeing is clearly very complex. Changes within our bodies, such as brain development and puberty, and in our social circumstances appear to make us vulnerable at particular times of our lives.”
Social media appears to be playing a much larger role in mental health issues than previously thought. But obviously, this research has not come as a surprise to most, after last year’s Facebook scandal.
In October of 2021 Frances Haugen, the former Facebook product manager turned whistleblower, revealed documents showing Facebook (now META) “harms children, sows division and undermines democracy in pursuit of breakneck growth and ‘astronomical profits’,” as reported by NPR.
Shockingly, these documents also revealed that Instagram was complicit in showing content to young people that could potentially increase the severity of eating disorders. Putting profits before the well being of their users.
YOUTH SUICIDE PREVENTION
Labelled by the BC Medical Journal in 2011 as “the silent epidemic,” suicide awareness, education and prevention have been firmly cemented into contemporary mental health rhetoric.
A 2019 study found that national suicide prevention strategies across four different countries (Norway, Sweden, Finland and Australia) were effective. Mostly for males aged 25 – 65 years. But little mention is made of the overall effectiveness of these programs for youth suicide.
“Our study implies that the implementation of a national strategy is an effective tool to reduce suicide rates,” wrote the study authors. But if this is true, why have the majority of these countries seen increasing rates of youth suicide?
Further research is needed before drawing any conclusions. But social media may be a good place to start looking, given that children as young as 8 are spending more time on social media than ever before.
Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Tik Tok and Instagram clearly all have a role to play in the youth mental health crisis. So let us hope that these mega-companies start making a change before it’s too late.