Social Media and Suicide: The Deadly Correlation Among Young Adults

Social Media and Suicide: The Deadly Correlation Among Young Adults
Pavica Sheldon

(WAFF) - Within the last 20 years, suicide rates among adolescent and young adults have drastically increased, largely due to social media induced depression.

Suicide was the second-leading cause of death among 10- to 24-year-olds in 2016, up from third place in previous years, according to the CDC.

The first nationally representative study exploring the link between social media and depression was published in 2016 by the journal Depression and Anxiety. The study looked at nearly 2,000 young adults between the ages of 19-32.

Each of the young adults took an established depression assessment tool and answered multiple questionnaires on social media use. The questionnaires included the 11 most used social media platforms: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube, Google+, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Vine.

The findings? Essentially, the more time a person spends on social media, the more likely that person is to be depressed.

There are a myriad of reasons for the chilling connection, but one of the strongest indicators pointing to the relationship between social media and depression is the relationship between narcissism and social comparisons.

UAH communications professor and international author, Dr. Pavica Sheldon is an expert on the subject, publishing three national studies.

"Because users have the ability to control the kind of photos and information displayed on their page, users can more effectively present themselves the way they want to be perceived, creating a false image to their "friends"," said Sheldon.

In many circumstances, these unrealistic social media posts are responsible for unearthing and planting many deep rooted insecurities-especially among females. A 2017 study in the journal Translational Psychiatry found that more than one-third of teenage girls in the U.S. experience a first episode of depression – and that's almost three times the rate for boys.

One of the most prominent examples of social media induced depression is Australian Instagram sensation, Essena O'Neill. At one time, O'Neill had over a  half a million Instagram followers, earning on average $2,000 per post, but soon found herself in a deep depression. She deleted over 2,000 pictures and dramatically edited the captions on the remaining posts.

A photo of her wearing a bikini, once captioned "Things are getting pretty wild at my house," was edited: "see how relatable my captions were – stomach sucked in, strategic pose, pushed up boobs. I just want younger girls to know this isn't candid life, or cool or inspirational. It's contrived perfection made to get attention."

O'Neill's epiphany came when she achieved great numbers of followers but realized it left her even more lonely. She began to need "more followers, more viewers" to feel good.

O'Neil later went on to delete her Instagram account telling her followers, "I no longer want to spend hours and hours of my time scrolling, viewing and comparing myself to others."

While the majority of young adults aren't an Instagram models looking for paid for advertising as they censor their social media posts, Sheldon says they are looking for the same outcome-validation.

In her most recent study- set to be published late this year, the average millennial spends over 3.5 hours (1 hour (58 minutes) on Instagram; 1.38 hours on Facebook, .57 hours on Twitter) on social media platforms and sends approximately 55 text messages a day. 8 percent of this group reports at least one suicide risk factor.

Sheldon took her research a step further looking at high risk millennials, millennials with higher narcissism scores who spend 5 hours or more on social media platforms.

She concluded that these "high risk" millennials based "happiness" off of the number of likes, retweets, reposts, etc. The numbers back the anecdotal evidence. 33 percent of this group of social media users show at least one suicide risk factor.

While social media can certainly have a positive impact on the lives of many and it is impossible to fully identify the breaking points of suicide victims, research indicates it is contributing to the suicide epidemic in America.

Sheldon recommends that parents open a dialogue with their children and encourages social media users to spend no more than two hours a day on social networks.

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