Suicide: the Sadness Behind the Screen Exploring
I have grown up in a generation of social media users. Facebook, one of the most popular social media sites, was founded in 2004, when I was three. Four years later it had 100 million active users. Today, Facebook has 2.27 billion active users worldwide. Not only has Facebook’s popularity significantly increased but so has social media use in general. In 2010, 97 million people were social media users, today it’s 2.62 billion worldwide. And, it is estimated that 81% of the US population has a social media profile and the average person spends five years of his/her life on social media (Gordon).
Ever since my childhood I have been exposed to social media. Both my parents are Facebook users and my older sister was the one to help me make my first snapchat account, it was as if my family introduced social media to me, rather than society. This is common among most of my peers as well; social media has become the norm, past time activity, and for some has become an addiction.
That said, it is clear that the increase in technology has improved social media. Now there are hundreds of different social networking sites that people of any age can choose from, as long as they have a way of accessing it. Social media is beginning to expand beyond just the millennials who invented it. Now studies have shown that almost half of 11-12 year olds have a social media account (Gordon) and my grandparents know how to work their facebook accounts, better than their TV. While it might not necessarily be all bad to have a range of ages on social media, there have to be some consequences.
Throughout high school, many of my friends and I have experienced depression. Whether it be small feelings of sadness or serious (possibly major) depressive symptoms, depression is very common in adolescents. At my school I know of many other people dealing with depression, and other mental illnesses such as: anxiety, drug abuse, and even suicidal thoughts or attempts. While my depression is occasional and not that serious, I always wonder, what could be causing me to feel so upset when I have such a great life? How could someone like me and other kids at my school who live in a wealthy, fun city with happy families be struggling so much?
While there are some obvious and unfortunate life circumstances or biological factors that can explain some peoples’ disorders, a lot of times there aren’t. What could be the cause behind such horrible disease in people so young? To answer this question I constantly blame social media. It is made up of “perfect” people’s profiles and centered around the idea that less is not more. Social media can be a constant battle of showing off more money, more clothes, and more fame, to more followers at all times. How could this not lead to peer pressure, and the desire to fit in?
I was briefly exposed to this topic in my media studies class my sophomore year and helping many friends with depression and even experiencing it sometimes myself, I have always been interested in studying the effects of something as prominent in my life as social media. After seeing research on the addiction of social media and the increase in teen mental illnesses, I formulated a question. To help me understand myself, my peers and what social media is doing to us, I want to answer: what are the effects of social media on teen depression and suicide, and to what extent can it be prevented?
To begin researching my topic I had to first understand depression and suicide. According to the book, Ordinary People, by Moss, depression is defined as a psycho neurotic or psychotic disorder in which an individual is overcome with extreme feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and dejection. Depending on the individual and his particular set of circumstances, this affliction can strike at any age and can be triggered by any number of different factors. Depression can also range from a small feeling of sadness to serious feelings of depression. While many people experience moments of sadness throughout their lives, many people also struggle with major depression, which is the diagnosis of severe sadness that has been ongoing and interferes with one’s daily life. Most cases of major depression are developed and diagnosed in adolescents, around 50% of adolescents who have major depression are diagnosed before reaching adulthood (Zuckerbrot).
While depression affects many people, there are many ways to recover from experiencing it, like antidepressants, therapeutic treatment and more. However for some, they are unable to deal with their feeling of loneliness, which can result in suicide. Normally, suicidal behaviour has shown to significantly correlate with multiple other mental disorders, such as: depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and affective disorders (Carli). When people are experiencing unfamiliar feelings, usually associated with those mental disorder, they don’t know how to deal with their feelings and they see death as the only way out. Especially younger people, while experiencing many physical and social changes due to adolescents, and new social and academic pressure, they are overwhelmed and confused with how they are feeling and see suicide as a permanent response, not a solution, to a temporary problem. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) “The events that lead to a suicide attempt can vary from person to person, a common theme that many suicide attempt survivors report is the need to feel relief. At desperate moments, when it feels like nothing else is working, suicide may seem like the only way to get relief from unbearable emotional pain” (Cartlidge).
While adolescents struggle with hormonal and emotional changes during their educational years, are they enough to explain the amount of major depression and suicides in people so young. I interviewed a middle school counselor, Kelly McCarthy, to ask about how prevalent mental illness was in children so young. She explained that, “” It was so uncommon to hear of kids feeling this way (depressed or suicidal), I mean I was in high school 10 years ago, it was just really uncommon. There were a few suicides when I was in high school but before then it wasn’t really a thing.”” She described that she felt as though kids nowadays throw around the idea of being depressed and claim they want to kill themselves, when really they don’t know the severity of those feelings and what those mental illnesses really mean. Along with what Ms. McCarthy has witnessed, many research has shown an overall decrease in the mental wellbeing of people in the United States, specifically adolescents. This appeared in all walks of life, all races, backgrounds, countries, etc. The research analysis found that the generation of teens, that they call “”iGen”” — those born after 1995 — are much more likely to experience mental-health issues. “”In just the five years between 2010 and 2015, the number of U.S. teens who felt useless and joyless, classic symptoms of depression, surged 33 percent. Teen suicide attempts increased 23 percent and, the number of 13-to-18-year-olds who committed suicide jumped 31 percent” (Teenage Depression). I also interviewed a Wellness Intake Specialist, Cheryl Staton, who mentioned “When I first started here, I was very busy. I had 1-2 children a week going to the hospital feeling very depressed, suicidal or having suicidal ideations. It was pretty eye-opening. I was busy everyday.”” Ms. McCarthy only became familiar with mental illness once she began studying it. Research showed an increase within the last 10 years and Ms. Stanton was constantly dealing with depressed and suicidal kids at the highschool level. But why? Why has there been such an increase in mental illness in adolescents and what’s the cause?
That is exactly why I formulated the question I did. The only answer can be technology. Within the last 10 years technology has increased so much that social media and the internet could have never be used as an explanation for mental illnesses in teenagers because it simply didn’t exist. Now, it is involved in everything we do, in everything teenagers do.