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Social Media and Suicide

Social Media and Suicide

Suicide rates among young people have risen substantially in recent years. Part of the troubling trend may be explained by the negative effects of social media on teens’ mental health.

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Suicide rates among young people have risen substantially in recent years. Part of the troubling trend may be explained by the negative effects of social media on teens’ mental health.

Help is available if you or a loved one are struggling with suicidal ideation

If you or a loved one is struggling with thoughts of suicide, free, confidential support is available 24/7 through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call 988 for help.
Visit the Lifeline online at https://988lifeline.org/.

The teen mental health crisis and suicide rates

According to a 2021 U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory, surveys of young Americans have shown a sharp decline in their mental condition in recent years. The Advisory reports that, as of 2019, “one in three high school students and half of female students reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness.” This represents a 40% increase over where the figures had been in 2019.

This trend is unfortunately apparent in rates for both suicidal ideation and fatal suicide attempts. The Surgeon General’s Advisory reports that suicide attempts increased by 36% between 2000 and 2019. Similarly, the number of teens admitting to making a suicide plan had increased by 44%.

As of 2021, the CDC reports that suicide was the second leading cause of death for kids and young adults between the ages of 10 and 24.

How are suicide and social media use related for teens?

Social media and teenage suicide rates may be connected in three primary ways:

  1. Dangerous algorithms are designed to prioritize engagement–time spent on the platform–above user safety, squeezing out time for activities they enjoy and in-person social interaction.
  2. Lack of tools for users to limit their user – social media apps are designed to keep kids using their products above all else, denying kids the option to see and set reasonable limits on how long, how, and at what times they use the apps.
  3. Poor parental control options limit parents’ and guardians’ ability to proactively regulate how and for how long their child interacts with social media.

These factors are a recipe for compulsive use. A 2022 survey of teens by the Pew Research Center found that more than a third of respondents described their use of at least one social media app as “almost constant.” What’s more, a majority of adolescents surveyed believed “it would be at least somewhat hard to give” up the use of social media.

To keep kids returning again and again, social media platforms use design techniques similar to those used in slot machines, such as: 

  • Constant notifications to trigger a fear of missing out (FOMO) and need to check the app.
  • Intermittent variable rewards that keep kids glued to their screens in the hope that this time they’ll get a positive reaction or have a positive interaction.
  • Flow states induced by endless scrolling of content, with posts ordered by algorithms designed to increase engagement.

How exactly does social media harm teens’ mental health?

Defective social media features can create addictive behavior in teens and harm their mental health. The features take advantage of the brain’s reward system to make the experience as captivating as possible. The exploitation is particularly harmful to teens because their brains are still developing.

At this developmental stage, teens have less impulse control than adults, which makes them more likely to develop an unhealthy attachment to social media. Engagement features such as notifications, likes and comments create intermittent rewards that can be highly addictive to teens. These features encourage teens to revisit the applications where they may receive a dopamine reward.

The algorithms of social media apps can also aid in addictive behavior by pushing teens into a “flow state.” This state of continuous engagement can influence dopamine release. This reward system manipulation can make using social media more enjoyable and lead to compulsive behaviors. Teens, with their developing brains, are vulnerable to this manipulation and find it hard to disengage.

A growing body of scientific evidence suggests that social media use among teens may cause a variety of mental health problems and other injuries, including: 

  • Anxiety
  • Body dysmorphia
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Lower self-esteem
  • Self-harm
  • Sexual exploitation
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Social media addiction
  • Suicidal ideation

Learn more about the dangers of social media for youths here.

How do social media’s inadequate parental controls impact kids’ mental health?

Social media platforms are facing allegations of inadequate parental controls. Plaintiffs involved in lawsuits against social media platforms have alleged that their parental controls have four major problems:

  • Limited control access: Parental control tools only work for certain types of interactions or areas of social media.
  • No customization: Settings have limited options for parents to use, impeding their ability to meet their children’s safety needs.
  • Opt-in requirements: Many parental control tools require parents to maintain an active account to connect with their child’s account. These features are only helpful when parents know that such an account exists and are able to maintain their own account.
  • Poor monitoring: Parental control tools are not real-time, which makes it difficult for parents to proactively or quickly handle issues.

The result is a perfect storm of children having free access to apps that are designed to be addictive and have been connected to a number of mental health harms, without parents having the ability to protect them. The lack of effective parental control tools may be another link between social media and suicidal behavior.

Social media companies are also under fire for lacking age verification protocols. The platforms largely rely on users to self-report their age when signing up for an account. As a result, kids can easily create accounts using fake birthdays to access these addictive features.

Some platforms, like YouTube and TikTok ,do not require an account to access the videos. Without an account, teens have unrestricted access to the application, and parental controls do not exist.

Contact a social media mental health attorney

Motley Rice represents young people and families in litigation alleging that multiple social media platforms intentionally and deliberately designed their social media apps without regard for the safety of children.
Our thoughts go out to those affected by suicide, self-harm and eating disorders worsened by social media.

Call attorneys Previn Warren and Jonathan Orent at 1.800.768.4026 or complete this form to explore your options.

Warning signs that your teen might be dealing with suicidal thoughts

While social media companies make it hard for parents to regulate their teens’ use of social media and see if social media is harming their teens’ mental health, parents can still be on the lookout for warning signs. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the following may be warning signs of suicidal ideation:

  • Talking about specifically negative subjects: This may include expressing feelings of guilt or of being a burden to others, as well as discussing wanting to die.
  • Feeling extreme emotions: This can include hopelessness, sadness, anxiety, anger, or physical and emotional pain.
  • Changing behaviors: This might entail withdrawing from friend groups, engaging in excessively risky behaviors, or researching ways to die.

If you are worried that your child or teen may be dealing with depression or suicidal ideation, it’s important to seek help from a medical professional. Mental health professionals can help you and your child deal with these feelings, including identifying what factors may be encouraging these negative feelings.

You can also reach out for help with the following services:

Our experience helping families stand against tech companies

Motley Rice attorneys have worked for decades fighting for families and people. Our experience includes representing people suing tech companies over harm they’ve suffered.

You may be eligible to file a lawsuit for social media harm if you or your child:

  • Attempted or died by suicide
  • Received treatment for self-harm (including but not limited to cutting and eating disorders)
  • Received a diagnosis of a mental health disorder from a health care professional

If you believe these conditions were caused or worsened by social media and you need help filing a lawsuit for social media harm, please contact us. Your well-being is important to our team.

Read more about filing a social media lawsuit.
 

Sources
  1. CDC. Child Health Fast Stats.
  2. Center for Countering Digital Hate. Deadly by Design.
  3. National Institute of Mental Health. Warning Signs of Suicide.
  4. National Vital Statistics Reports;70(4). 2021 May 17.
  5. Pew Research Center. Teens, Social Media and Technology 2022.
  6. TikTok Support. Browse as guest.
  7. Wall Street Journal. Inside TikTok’s Algorithm: A WSJ Video Investigation.

 

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