In today’s digital age, everything is accessible to teenagers via connected devices – even suicide. The rise in teen suicides is alarming. Learn what you can do to protect your teen.
Suicide, at any age, should not be taken lightly. It is a serious problem and extremely harmful to not only the person attempting it, but everyone in his or her life. Knowing the outcome of a suicide, it’s unfortunate that the severity of the problem even has to be said in society these days, but it seems there is a concerning culture developing around the act – particularly among teens.
Prior to the 2000s, the number of suicides committed declined each year. Then, at the turn of the century, rates started increasing. According to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the frequency of suicide in the United States was 10.5 for every 100,000 people in 1999. By 2014, the rate was 13 suicides for every 100,000 people. While this may not seem like a large increase based on the number difference, it is actually a rise of 24 percent. What’s even more tragic is the rate of suicides for girls between 10 and 14 years old, which tripled over the same time frame.
When looking at suicide in teens specifically, The Jason Foundation reveals that suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 10 and 24. Across the United States, there is an average of 5,240 attempts by teens between seventh and twelfth grade every day. With such concerning statistics, it’s important to try to understand why this is the case. Depression, one of the main factors that contributes to suicidal ideation and attempts, is gradually being accepted as a psychological disease and treatment options are more available than they used to be, so why are suicide numbers increasing?
The answer may lie in technology and the media’s glorification of the act.
Digital Media and Teen Suicide
In recent years, TV shows, the internet, and movies have seemed to glamorize teen suicide. They portray the struggles of adolescent life and present suicide as the way someone was able to escape teenage angst. Suggesting suicide as a trend or giving it a comedic value and ignoring the fact that it devalues life has been evident in the media since 1988, when the move “Heathers” was released.
Heathers: Is Suicide Cool?
In the black-comedy cult film, a popular girl named Veronica is involved in killing several other students who had wronged her, but blames the deaths on acts of suicide. The parents and school attribute the suicides to the students being troubled, and those who passed away were seen as martyrs, taking their lives as a statement against the challenges they faced.
Because several of the teens who are killed are in the popular crowd, the students in the movie begin to suggest that suicide has become the “cool” thing to do. This storyline essentially made light of death and suicide, which, in a way, glorified the act for young people at the time the movie was popular. While the film was clearly created to be a satire, the portrayal of teen suicide would likely not be seen as so comedic in society today.
13 Reasons Why: Is Suicide the Answer?
Aside from old movies and the recent gamification of suicide, the release of other forms of entertainment on the subject may also be contributing to the “suicide culture.” Some media representations have even arguably suggested that suicide is sometimes warranted. One relevant and timely example is the Netflix show “13 Reasons Why,” which has been the topic of much discussion, both positive and negative, since its release.
The show is based on a book of the same name and presents the story of a high school student named Hannah who commits suicide after being treated poorly by some of her peers. Before taking her own life, she creates 13 tapes, one for each person she claims gave her a reason to kill herself, explaining what they did and why it led her to her decision.
Some critics of the show suggest that the story tells teens there can be justification for committing suicide, or, maybe worse, it’s a form of revenge. An unfortunate instance that provides support for this theory is the report that a 23-year-old in Peru took his own life and left tapes for those he said caused him to act.
Watching Suicide: Is Our Culture Desensitized?
While the increasing number of teen suicides itself should be exceptionally worrisome, what may be scarier is the number of people interested in watching or encouraging young people to take their lives.
In one disturbing instance from 2013, a 20-year-old man posted a message on an online chat board letting other members in the group know he was planning to commit suicide on camera because he thought he “would finally give back to the community.” But live streaming his own attempted death was only half of what made this situation so devastating. The other piece was that 200 people watched the live stream through a chatroom and sent messages provoking and pushing the man to go through with it.
This situation doesn’t seem to be a one-off either. In 2008, a 19-year-old Florida man overdosed on pills in front of his webcam while almost 1,500 people watched. More recently, at the very end of 2016, a 12-year-old girl from Georgia hung herself while on a live stream through Facebook.
With technology supporting the creation of your own content and less-censored media being accessible – along with a population that seems to be becoming numb to the reality of ending a life – adolescent suicide is a bigger problem than ever. It’s time for a shift in society and an increased focus on noticing and supporting troubled teens.
How to Prevent Teen Suicide
One of the most effective ways to prevent suicide in teens is by increasing awareness and acceptance. As a parent or teacher, pay attention to teen mental health and look for warning signs that suicidal thoughts may be present. These signs may include:
- Consistent and excessive sadness, anxiety, withdrawal, fatigue, and/or irritability
- An apathy for previously enjoyed, positive experiences and activities
- Reduced social interaction and loss of friends
- Declining performance in school Insomnia or oversleeping
- Using food as a comfort or loss of appetite
- Self-harm or an increase in risky behavior
If any of these changes are evident in teens in your life, initiate a conversation. Let them know you are there to listen, you won’t judge them, and there are treatment options available to help. Stay involved in their lives and be a support system and positive influence. Make sure you are aware of what they are doing online, who they are spending their time with, and what types of content they are consuming.
Getting Help for a Suicidal Teen
If you feel your child is at risk for suicide, it may be time to get outside help. Addressing the problem immediately and letting your teen know death is not a reasonable solution is critical to changing the recent societal trends. Ask around your community and do some research online to find a teen mental health provider to talk to. Some teens may benefit from medication and therapy, while others might require inpatient treatment as a safety precaution. Getting your child into a safe, supportive, and risk-free environment can save his or her life and start a journey toward recovery.
San Antonio Behavioral Healthcare Hospital has an inpatient teen mental illness program designed to specifically treat the unique needs of young patients. Our specialized team can help stabilize distressed teens and start an intensive treatment program that helps prevent future suicidal thoughts and self-harming behaviors. Call our assessment team at 210-541-5350 to talk to an admissions specialist about treatment for your teen.
If you or someone you know is at immediate risk, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: 1-800-273-8255. The line is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Confidential help is available for free.
If this is an emergency and you think someone’s life may be in danger, call 911.