After a twenty year drop, teen suicide is up. Way up. Some mental health experts blame social media. It's a new way teens can be bullied, which psychologists say is linked to suicide.
However, besides cyberbulling, there's another issue preying on the minds of teenagers. They can develop feelings of low self-worth when they compare themselves to the way their peers are portrayed on social media. That diminished self-esteem can lead to suicidal thoughts and actions.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports from the years 2010 to 2015 teen suicide has increased a whopping 40% among girls, 30% among boys. Perhaps not so coincidentally, that's the same time period teens became obsessed with social media.
The CDC does not directly blame the use of social media for the jump in teen suicide. But a new study makes a connection. The study looks at two surveys that questioned a total of 500-thousand teens. It's published in Tuesday's Clinical Psychological Science journal.
"Screenagers:" Teens Addicted to Screens
The surveys found that in 2015, one in five teens used an electronic device, including smart phones, for five or more hours a day. Those so-called "screenagers," were 70 percent more likely to have suicidal thoughts or actions than those who reported less frequent use, such as one hour a day.
Even teens who used social media for just one hour every day were 14 percent more likely to be depressed than those who used it less than once a day.
In a strange twist, not all cyber-bulling is the real deal. Believe it or not, some teens bully themselves online. Similar to physical self-harm, such as cutting or burning, the new phenomenon is called digital self-harm, according to Sameer Hinduja, Ph.D., co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center and a professor of criminology and criminal justice at Florida Atlantic University.
"An individual creates an anonymous online account and uses it to publicly send hurtful messages or threats to one's self," he explained.
Hinduja was contacted by a police department investigating complaints of a teen receiving the following messages:
"You should jump off a roof and kill yourself."
"You're pathetic and don't deserve to be alive."
"If U don't kill yourself tonight, I'll do it for you."
Hinduja discovered the recipient of these hateful messages was also the sender.
Hinduja says about six percent of teens have anonymously posted something online about themselves that was mean for the following reasons:
- Feel sad and needed attention from others
- Already felt bad and just wanted to feel worse
- To be funny
These behaviors tragically predict suicide in some cases, such as 14-year-old Hannah Smith, from Leicestershire, England, who anonymously sent hurtful messages to herself on social media in the weeks leading up to her suicide. Likewise,15-year-old Natalie Natividad from Hebbronville, Texas ended her life last year after receiving messages on social media calling her "ugly" and said she "should kill herself," later discovered she posted those messages herself.