Suicide rates are rising among young teens — Is social media to blame?

BOCA RATON, Fla. — The United States is dealing with an unsettling teen suicide problem, a new study reveals. Death from suicide has become the second leading cause of premature death among people between 10 to 24 years-old. Now, new research finds an increasing trend that could explain why suicide has become the number one killer for young teens.

The study examined the rates of suicides among 13 to 14-year-olds living in the U.S. from 1999 to 2018. They looked at several factors such as race and area of residence which could have influenced a teen’s suicidal behavior.

Suicide rates among children between 13 and 14 more than doubled from 2008 to 2018 — a time that corresponds with a boom in social media use. The trend is a shock after an otherwise declining trend in deaths by suicide in this age group from 1999 to 2007. The rates were similar in the city and rural areas but were more common among boys living in rural areas with access to a gun.

Firearms played a role in 46.7 percent of suicides involving boys and 34.7 percent of incidents in urban areas. Suicides were more likely to take place between September and May and were highest on Mondays. This timeline corresponds with the academic year, suggesting school may also be a major contributor to suicide in this age group.

“While further analytic studies are needed, there are certainly important clinical and public health implications based on our study findings,” Sarah K. Wood, MD, a senior author and professor of pediatrics at Florida Atlantic University, in a media release. “Specifically, these descriptive data have temporal correlates with social media, school stress, and firearms, which require further research. In the meanwhile, there are clinical and public health initiatives for those at highest risks.”

Teen student stressed over school work
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While guns were a common cause of teen deaths, some teens ended up choosing methods. From 2007 to 2018, 56.7 percent of suicides involved hanging, strangulation, or suffocation. In medium and small metro areas, 38.9 percent of suicides involved these methods, while 38.9 percent of teens used a firearm. Nearly half of the suicides in rural areas were the result of a fatal gunshot wound while the others involved methods including hanging, strangulation, or suffocation.

“During the years immediately preceding the onset of increases in rates of suicide among 13 and 14 year olds, several prominent social media platforms used by teens, including Reddit, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Myspace and Tumblr were launched. In aggregate, all of these sites have grown to billions of users, but large as they are, by 2018, all but YouTube were surpassed in terms of teen use by Instagram and Snapchat,” explains Charles H. Hennekens, first Sir Richard Doll Professor of Medicine at Florida Atlantic University and study co-author.

The rise in suicide rates were similar across the U.S. with statistically significant increases in the Northeast, Midwest, South, and West.

“Our data show that non-metropolitan areas have higher rates of teen suicide, regardless of method and rural areas have higher rates due to firearms,” adds Hennekens.

The study is published in the journal Annals of Pediatrics and Child Health.

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