What we aren’t saying about death by suicide

Shhh! Don’t talk about it!                                                            What we aren’t saying about death by suicide
Mary Ruth Cross, MS, MFT, NCC, RPT-S
CEO/Owner Treehouse Family Counseling Services.

Did you know that the suicide rate among teens and young adults had been going down until about 2006? What’s interesting is that this is the same year that Facebook removed some of the age restrictions on their platform and Twitter was launched. Since 2006 other social media cites have been added. Is there an association between social media and death by suicide?

Some researchers are looking at this question and finding that the answer is yes. (Luxton, June & Fairall 2012) More and more social media is used by people of all ages. There are many positive benefits of using social media; staying in touch with friends and family that are far away, keeping up with trends and interests. The downside can be cyberbullying, stalking and harassment. You can google just about any topic and find interest facts as well as opinions.

The internet can give us easy access to information about suicide and death by suicide. This information can enables suicidal thinking, behaving and acting upon a lethal method. It also has been shown to be an easy platform for cyberbullying. Sadly this has led some teens to feel so desperate that the only option they believed would make the pain stop was death by suicide. In 2017 “13 Reasons Why” was a popular Netflix series that chronicled the last year of a teenagers life before she died by suicide. Some parents believe that this series was the impetus for their teen to die by suicide.

As reported in the San Francisco Chronicle Bella Herndon, 15, and Priscilla Chiu, 15, both killed themselves in April, only four days apart after their parents say they watched the 13-episode drama released on March 31. (2017). Netflix has stated that they received many letters from families complaining that the series glamorized teen suicide. I have viewed the series and it is indeed disturbing however when a teen dies by suicide there it is usually a thought and feeling that has lived with them for a while.

Although the decision to act on those thoughts and feelings may seem to come on suddenly the internal experience has been there for some time. It remains very difficult for teens and adults to talk about suicidal thoughts and feelings. Shame often is a constant companion to those thinking about death by suicide. This can make the person voiceless and the suicidal thinking silent to the outside world.

There have been several high profile people in entertainment that have died by suicide; Anthony Bourdain, Robin Williams for example. In 2004 the Tri-valley area saw 4 teen death by suicide events within one month. Since then there has been an improved effort to focus on improving mental health services that help teens work through depression and suicidal thinking. But is it enough?

The biggest detractor for death by suicide is to remove the stigma and shame that is often associated with depression and suicidal thinking so that we can all talk about it. It has been said that “suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” This message is important to pass on but talking to our teens, family members, friends, and co-workers about what they feel brings the depression and suicidal thinking into the light.

By positive emotional connection with others the likelihood of the person acting on their suicidal thoughts is decreased. There is a suicide prevention hotline that is available 24 hours a day. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call 1-800-273-8255. We must keep talking about our thoughts and feelings so that we don’t have one more case of death by suicide. There are apps for smartphones like “My 3” that helps teens and adults get connected to others so they don’t act on their suicidal thinking. Check with your child’s school counselor for local resources and above all start talking!

 

References
Luxton, June, Fairall (2012) Social Media and Suicide: A Public Health Perspective, Am J Public Health. 2012 May; 102(Suppl 2): S195–S200. Published online 2012 May. doi: [10.2105/AJPH.2011.300608] Retrieved 10/29/18: https://nypost.com/2017/11/14/rise-in-teen-suicide-connected-to-social-media-popularity-study/