Suicide rates among teenage girls have reached alarming numbers, hitting a 40-year peak in 2015, where for every 100,000 American girls, five died by suicide.
The suicide rate for teenage girls ages 15 to 19 doubled between the year 2007 to 2015 and went up 31 percent for teenage boys, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
“It’s alarming for boys as well as for girls, but for girls the notable piece is how much more it seems to have increased,” said Dr. Anitha Iyer, the chief clinical officer of the Mental Health Association of New York City.
She said these striking numbers have several contributing factors: family history, substance abuse, and economic instability, to name a few. Though, one newer element seems to stand out above all else: social media.
“Social media can offer a slanted view of an individual’s reality — people often tend to pick and choose what they post and may post only positive things,” Dr. Iyer said. “So for a teenager who may be seeing images of their friends really happy or all at a party, it can be depressing. It can exacerbate the feelings of loneliness and isolation.”
Dr. Iyer said that cyber bullying has increased as well. She noted that social media and high suicide rates in teens is a correlation, not a causation. That is why the Mental Health Association has focused a great deal of energy on how to leverage social media as a tool for connecting with teens.
“Social media can also be a powerful tool to spread messages of positivity to teenagers, particularly because that’s where they are,” Dr. Iyer said.
And to parents who are concerned about their own kids?
“My best advice would be to ask. Talk to them. Don’t be afraid to ask about suicidality,” Dr. Iyer said. “It’s a common myth that if you ask about it you put the idea in their mind when in fact it might provide an opening for the teenage to talk about what they are feeling.”