pediatric mental health

Social Media, Self-Esteem, and Teen Suicide

Suicide is the cause of 13% of teenage deaths in the United States. It is the third largest cause of death, falling short of only accidents and homicide. This is a very scary fact, as suicide is not something you can predict the occurrence of easily.

The Impact of Social Media on Teens

In this day and age it is easier than ever to get caught up in not feeling good about yourself. In a previous blog we discussed social media and the difficulty of navigating it as teenagers. This comes back into play here, as social media is one of the biggest contributing factors to depression in adolescents. It tends to effect girls more than boys on the whole.

According to an article from CNN,

Dorian A. Lamis, an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University School of Medicine/Grady Health System, theorized that use of social media and cyberbullying may affect teenage girls more than boys, resulting in rising suicide deaths among older teen girls. "Some research has suggested that the timing of puberty in girls is a contributing factor for the increased suicide rate," said Lamis, who was not involved in the new research. Puberty starts as early as 8 in some girls. The psychosocial and physical changes may leave girls "vulnerable to depression, anxiety and other psychiatric disorders earlier on in life." These known risk factors for suicide may catch up with a girl as she grows older.

In 2015 the suicide rate among teenage girls rose to the highest it had been in forty years.

It can be difficult to know how to help, because it is so sporadic. The best thing to do is to talk to kids about how they are feeling, and look for signs of depression or self harm. The rate has doubled since 2007, which begs the question, “what happened?” Between 2007 and 2015, technology emerged as a much more prevalent aspect of society. Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and other “social media” related apps became a large part of life, particularly the life of a teenager.

While these tools were created with positive ideas, unfortunately it is easy for teenagers to get mixed up in cyberbullying and indulge in bad behavior when behind a screen. It is much easier to send someone a hateful message while sitting at home in your room than to say it to their face. Looking someone in the eye while hurting them is the part that stops people from doing so, but with technology we have completely eliminated the need for that, making it that much easier for people to be indecent to each other.

It is ironic that the purpose of social media is to bring people together, yet it can be the sole reason for someone to feel completely alone.

Everyone has moments in their life where they feel alone, but teenagers do not have enough experience yet to know that it is going to be okay, and this is where self harm and suicide can come into play. A giant mixture of reasons can lead to someone feeling depressed. An estimated 19 million Americans are struggling with depression. It is a disease that can effect people from all different walks of life, and it is not a choice.

Sometimes kids do not even know that they are suffering from depression, since there is a lack of clarification among society, so do not rely on patients to tell you, because they may not know it themselves. There are other ways that you can tell however, other than their own admission.

Warning Signs of Depression

A few of the biggest signs that a child might be depressed are:

  • Sadness or hopelessness
  • Irritability, anger, or hostility
  • Tearfulness or frequent crying
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Poor school performance
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
  • Lack of enthusiasm and motivation
  • Fatigue or lack of energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Unexplained aches and pains

How You Can Help Prevent Teen Suicide

If teenage patients express any of the above signs, the next step would be to talk to them about the things you have noticed. In most cases people want to feel like someone cares and it can be very helpful to have someone listen. If you suspect after chatting with a child that they may be suicidal, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK to speak with a professional about what step to take next.

Many PCC clients use programs like CHADIS to check up on their patients and see how they are doing. CHADIS is a behavioral, development, and health screening program. Both parents and kids fill out surveys before the visit, so that when they arrive the pediatrician has a better idea of what to talk about and look out for.

Technology is a big factor in the lives of teenagers, and incidentally a big contributor to kids becoming depressed. There are resources available that work to assist both parents and pediatricians on how to deal with technology with children. The American Academy of Pediatrics has a great resource page.

Depression and suicide are important topics to bring into routine checkups. Suicide is the third largest contributor to teenage death in the country, and cannot be overlooked.

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