The link between social media and suicide in young women
The suicide rate for young women in the United States continues to rise faster than that of young men, according to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) earlier this month.
The report cites shifting suicide methods as a possible reason for the increase, but some experts are pointing to social-media as an explanation for the rise in depression and suicide among young people.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for persons ages 10-24, according to the CDC. The CDC’s report examined suicide rates from 1994 to 2012 for males and females in that age bracket. Although rates for males are consistently higher than females—three times as high according to recent data—the rate of female suicide has risen faster in recent years.
From 2007 to 2012, the suicide rate for females rose from 2.2 to 3.4 per 100,000, the highest rate since 1981, when tracking began. In the same years, the rate for young men increased from 10.7 to 11.9 per 100,000. To explain the more rapid rise in female suicide, the study suggests more girls and young women are using suffocation, a suicide mechanism with a high lethality rate.
Other research proposes a correlation between social-media use and increased depression and suicide. A 2012 article in the American Journal of Public Health noted that more people using the internet is positively correlated to a higher general population suicide rate. The article examined access to pro-suicide information online, cyberbullying, and the isolating effects of social-media use.
Another study found that social isolation significantly affects the thoughts of girls, but not boys, concluding “adolescent girls who are isolated from peers or whose social relationships are troubled are at greater risk for suicidal thoughts than are girls with close relationships to other adolescents.”
“This generation is alone. They have 1,000 friends, but they are alone,” said Adam Donyes, a certified biblical counselor who works exclusively with teens and young people. Donyes is the founder and president of Link Year, a one-year Christian program for post-high-school teens. He said the more time he spends with young people, the more he sees social media’s impact on rising rates of depression and suicide. And he believes the impact is greater on girls.
Selective posting, editing, and one-click affirmation are resulting in young people who are isolated, operating in a shallow world of highlights and touched-up photos, Donyes said. “You and I know that we are wired for community. … When we are not having that, there is going to be depression,” he said. “When we are not known by anybody, we lack purpose.”
Donyes’ main message to young people is to learn to engage real community and real people.
“The scary thing is that I don’t see where this is going to get better,” Donyes said. “I think depression and suicide are going to continually climb as long as social media has the power it has in so many lives.”
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