And researchers have attributed this link to an increased use of social media. Recent teen suicideshave been blamed on cyberbullying, and social media posts depicting “perfect” lives may be taking a toll on teens’ mental health, researchers say.
“For girls, she says, “a lot of social media revolves around concerns about popularity – am I going to get likes on this photograph, do I look good enough in this picture?” About half a million teens ages 13 to 18 were involved. The research examined questionnaire data from more than 500,000 U.S. teens and also looked at data suicide statistics kept by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Questions about mood included frequency of feeling hopeless and considering or attempting suicide. Even though statistics suggest the overall USA economy improved during the time period of the study, the researchers didn’t explore what was happening in individual households in terms of job loss, for example.
On the other hand, the chief medical officer at the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention said that the research “provides weak evidence for a popular theory” and that “many factors influence teen suicide”.
The gender difference might be because boys have a different screen experience, usually involving computer games, compared to girls, who spend more time on social media.
The findings, published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, showed that 48% of teens who spent five or more hours per day on electronic devices reported at least one suicide-related outcome, compared to only 28% of those who spent less than an hour a day on devices.
“This increase in mental health issues among teens is very alarming”, said Jean Twenge, Professor at the San Diego State University in California. These teens were 70 percent more likely to have suicidal thoughts or actions than those who reported one hour of daily use.
Meanwhile Dr Victor Strasburger observed that the study “only implies a connection between teen suicides, depression and social media”. “These include things like depression, thinking about suicide, making a plan to commit suicide and then actually having attempted suicide at some point in the past”.
In 2009, 58 per cent of 12th grade girls used social media every day or almost every day; by 2015, 87 per cent used social media every day or almost every day.
“There’s a tendency to say, “Oh, teens are just communicating with their friends”. Many of us are afraid of the technology”.
With its immediacy, anonymity, and potential for bullying, social media has a unique potential for causing real harm, he said.
“It could be that young people are reaching out, telling parents, telling friends”, he says, “and certainly not feeling bad about filling out a survey about how they feel”.