Social Media and Adolescent Suicide

3 min read

This post was co-authored by Kayla Maloney, Aditya Vasavan, and Megan Chesin.

Social media are online platforms characterized by user-generated content and user interactivity. Ninety-seven percent of U.S. adolescents, defined here as individuals aged 10-19 years, report going online daily. The five most popular online platforms among this group are the social media platforms YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook. Thirty-five percent of adolescents say that they are on at least one of these platforms “almost constantly” (Pew Research Center, 2022).

Links Between Social Media Use and Adolescent Suicide Behavior

While benefits to social media use exist, the U.S. Surgeon General, along with a number of leading health organizations, including the American Psychological Association, have issued warnings regarding the potentially detrimental effects of social media use on adolescent mental health.

Suicidal behavior is among the identified mental health correlates of social media use among adolescents. Particularly problematic for adolescents in terms of increasing the suicide risk with social media use are the following:

  1. Increased depression and anxiety in adolescence with social media use (U.S. Surgeon General, 2023)
  2. Exposure to digital self-harm, i.e., online posting, sending, or otherwise sharing of self-harm incidents by others on social media (Patchin et al., 2022)
  3. The glorification and normalization of suicide behavior that can appear on social media (Keating & Arieta, 2021; Zdanow & Wright, 2012)

Of note, it may not be that social media use increases the risk of suicide behavior. Instead, it may be that an interest in suicide stories among those with a history of suicidal behavior is being detected. Further, social media can have protective effects against suicidal behavior among at-risk adolescents (Nesi et al., 2022). It can provide a platform for social connection and support as well as a place to find resources for help (e.g., Dodemaide et al., 2019; Weinstein et al., 2021).

How to Reduce Harm With Social Media Use

At home, parents can do the following:

  1. Educate their adolescents on how to communicate safely online about their difficulties. Many resources for improving adolescent communication about suicide on social media are available online.
  2. Limit adolescent’s social media use, as suggested by the U.S. Surgeon General.
  3. Develop a media plan to help adolescents more safely use social media, such as the one available here.
  4. Provide youth with resources for help, such as the 988 Crisis and Suicide Lifeline.

Other solutions rely on additional stakeholders, such as platform personnel, to implement and include the following:

  1. Surveilling users’ keywords and posting patterns for indications of suicide risk. However, social media surveillance brings forth ethical considerations that include privacy concerns (Skaik & Inkpen, 2021).
  2. Providing information on suicide prevention on social media, especially when data indicate a time or place where suicide risk in the population is elevated (Wang et al., 2023).

About the Authors:

Kayla Maloney, M.A., is currently a graduate student in the Psy.D. Program at William Paterson University. Her interests and experience include using telehealth interventions to reduce stress among emerging adults.

Aditya Vasavan, M.A., is also a graduate student in the Psy.D. program at William Paterson University. His interests and experience lie in providing psychosocial interventions to youth with autism spectrum disorders.

Ms. Maloney and Mr. Vasavan contributed equally to the authorship of this piece.

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