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Causes of Suicidal Tendencies among Youth Essay

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Social Issue Identification

Social media is a growing phenomenon and the use of these platforms has become widespread. As popular and convenient as it is to stay in touch with friends and family through the sites, many negative side effects have been discovered. Depression, anxiety, and even suicide have been linked to social media usage. Kids aren’t learning important social skills they will need offline. While many people have a genetic tendency towards depression, others “develop it as a result of loneliness and social isolation, bullying, loss, abuse, and conflict. And there’s a catalyst that this generation is often having to contend with: social media” (Social Media). The problem is mainly affecting adolescents ages 15- 25 in our society. It is a problem because it is not being addressed enough and lives are being lost to suicide due to a lack of knowledge of the dangers of social media. Suicidal tendencies have been glorified on social media and are advertised as an optional solution to temporary problems. The negative effects on mental health have become a problem across the globe.

History of the Issue

Social media started in 1997 when the first platform recognizable as social media was launched. It started to gain popularity in the early 2000s and Myspace reached the one million users milestone in 2004. At the beginning of the social media craze, nobody could’ve foreseen all the issues that would arise from the new platforms. Now, as more studies have been done, and data collected, the effects of social media users are becoming more well known. “Adolescents who spend more than three hours a day using social media may be at higher risk for mental health problems” (Riehm). It is not a question of ‘if’ there is an issue anymore. The problem is real and is affecting millions of people every year, contributing to anxiety, and depression, and even driving some to suicide. The founders of all the social media platforms’ goals were to connect people from all around the world and create efficient and simple means of communication. While they were successful in some respects, the tech world has also cultivated a feeling of isolation for many users hiding behind screens.

In June of 2014, Molly Russell, a young girl from London, took her own life. The reasons which pushed her to do so were later attributed to disturbing images on social media she had been viewing on her phone. Sites like Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest try to eliminate such images, but there is a gap between genuinely harmful content, and survivors sharing their recovery stories to encourage others. The software only identifies 79% of content violating the guidelines for disturbing images. On the contrary, artificial intelligence is capable of identifying and removing 95% of child nudity and 92% of content promoting terrorist propaganda. Some of the content being missed by the technological system glorifies suicide and self-harm, planting the idea in young users’ minds that suicide is an option. “Instagram removed nearly 10,000 images related to suicide and self-harm every day in the months following the controversy around Molly Russell’s death, but relied on users to report one in five, according to statistics” (Dodds). Molly’s father has become a spokesman for the looming social media crisis. He believes that while steps are being made in the right direction, much greater changes need to be made.

Fathima Latheef was a first-year student in Madras, India and she took her own life on November 9, 2015. Shortly following her death, her parents released screenshots of her blaming faculty members at the University of Madras for ‘causing her death. The University released a statement about Fathima’s death and claimed they were completely cooperating with the police investigation. However, they deny any faculty involvement despite the evidence of them trolling Ms. Latheef on social media. The university says claims of faculty involvement were “tarnishing the reputation institute and. . . our faculty are known for high quality, integrity, and fairness” (Marx). There are countless cases similar to Fathima’s, where a young person can no longer handle to stress and negativity coming from social media. Suicide has become so common but is a permanent solution to temporary problems. Never before has humanity been so connected and individually so alone. Social media makes cyberbullying so easy because there are no repercussions for words typed behind a screen.

Elise Christie is a world-class speed skater in the eye of the public. In January of 2016, she announced she would be taking a break from social media due to the negative head space it had put her in. After a series of unfortunate events at the 2018 winter Olympics, the Scot received a lot of backlash online which fueled her anxiety and depression. She released a statement about her choice to step away from the spotlight: “I’m really not happy with who I am at the moment, and my poor mental health is getting the best of me and affecting my behaviors” (Williams). Christie explained that she has struggled with poor mental health and self-harm throughout her life and she needed to clear her mind and get her life straight without the constant pressure social media had been adding. Social media continues to add stress, negativity, cyberbullying opportunities, and pressure to celebrities and everyday teenagers alike.

Current Status

As of recently, the many problems social media brings to the surface have started to be talked about more. Awareness is being raised because of the mass population the issue’s affecting. From 2007-2017, youth suicide increased by 56 percent. It is a crisis in the world and politicians, parents, and other leaders started searching for a cause and for a solution. Suicide attempts have also increased in the past ten years by over 400 percent. There is no single cause for this epidemic, however, a link has been found connecting suicidal tendencies with time spent on social media as discussed in the New York Times:

Kids now never disconnect. They’re connected 24/7. They go to bed with their smartphones. It may be cyberbullying. It may be envy. Maybe many things are going on here. The rise in attempted and completed suicides by young people correlates directly with their access to smartphones. Developmentally, these ages have always been difficult, but that’s been taken to the next level by smartphones, social media, and the constant pressure to be online. (Brody)

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Teens today don’t have as much face-to-face time as they used to. Eighty-five percent of teenagers in the United States are active on social media. When it started to take off, it was seen as a groundbreaking way to stay connected. However, as time has gone on the biggest problem has presented itself: mental health. People feel out of touch with each other because the only connection they’re creating is virtual. This impacts all of society because a whole generation is being raised without developing basic communication skills. If something is not changed, the overall mental health of youth today will continue to decline.

In the early summer, of 2019, Harvard conducted a survey to gather data in order to research social media’s effect on users’ mental health. The findings were surprisingly drastic and “guaranteed future social media interventions” (Investigators from Harvard). They found that those who shared their experiences with mental health on social media platforms with the goal of spreading awareness faced many risks. They are being confronted with threats to their employment, effects on relationships in their personal lives, fear of judgment and stigma, and fear of physically being hurt or attacked. Due to these threats, sharing their stories on social media has added to their struggles with mental health. Harvard is looking into what actions can be taken, and precautions put in place to decrease these risks and make social media a safer place. Society is being affected by the decreasing stigma on mental illnesses, but it is still extremely prevalent. If nothing is changed, anxiety, depression, and suicide rates will continue to rise, with social media playing a major role in the crisis.

Differing Viewpoints

A man in Utah has started an organization to fight the negative effects of social media on teens. Collin Kartchner is on a crusade to combat social media with social media by spreading awareness through the hashtag ‘#savethekids’. He has started a worldwide movement and has put up over a million ‘You are Loved’ and ‘You are Beautiful’ billboards across the United States. Kartchner teaches how to use social media for good and rise above the negativity it spreads, and he leads by example: “Using social media, we raised $100k’s for hurricane victims, kids fighting cancer, and orphans in South America” (Kartchner). Collin speaks to groups of teens and parents all around the country about the dangers of social media and how to deal with them. It is a non-profit organization, that donates all earnings to charity.

Stop Bullying is a government-funded organization with a mission to stop all types of bullying, but with an emphasis on cyberbullying. They are a group with national influence and recognize the magnitude of the social media issue. Stop Bullying has a strong opinion about the harmful effects involvement on social media platforms can have, “Cyberbullying includes sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else. . . Some cyberbullying crosses the line into unlawful or criminal behavior” (Public Affairs). The group’s main line of attack is through awareness. They have a large reach of influence and are capable of dispersing information to millions of individuals. Stop Bullying is government led and managed by the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Stop Bullying has been more effective as a whole to stop cyberbullying because they have a larger circle of influence. However, Collin Kartchner has made a bigger push against the negative effects of social media specifically, not just the bullying aspect. The most effective solution to the issue would be to require ads on social media feeds with reminders of cautions to keep in mind, such as data about the correlation between the rise in social media and the rise in depression. Social media itself is not inherently harmful, but its unsupervised, uneducated use of it leads to negative consequences. People spend an average of 2 hours and 22 minutes on social media every day (Salim). Placing reminders about the effects of extensive amounts of time on one’s phone in the exact place they are wasting so much time, is an infallible way to spread awareness to all social media users. Therefore, decreasing the downfalls of social media and returning it to the efficacious connection network it was originally designed to be.

Reflection

I do believe drastic improvements can be made to solve the social media attack on mental health. However, it could never be completely solved due to the extensive reach of its influence. If nothing changes and the overall mental health of adolescents continues to decline, there will be an extreme crisis in the world. More people will slip into depression and suicide rates will keep rising. Success stems from happiness and having a positive mindset elevates performance in all aspects of life. If everyone is miserable, the average success rates will decline, and our society will suffer as a whole. Progression and growth cannot flourish during struggle, solitude, and depression. I have learned that society is a harsh place and we need to unite against the darkness and negativity that is so easily encompassing youth today.

My responsibility is to spread what I know about the dangers of social media and seek to uplift and encourage through social media. I believe fighting fire with fire is the most efficient way to combat this looming problem in our society. Through the process of my research, I’ve learned how similar we all are to each other. Everyone feels alone sometimes, everyone struggles with their self-image, and everyone longs for connection and validation. Though I am just one person, I can spread positivity through personal and digital interactions which will have a ripple effect and countless beneficial consequences. The world needs more goodness and being a light to others is the best way to make a difference in my own circle, eventually expanding to influence many others. Happiness is contagious and something as simple as a smile or a positive like and comment can kickstart a revolution against the social media crisis facing our society.

Works Cited

  1. Brody, Jane. ‘Teenage Suicide and Social Media.’ New York Times, 6 Dec. 2019, p. A30(L). Gale In Context: Global Issues, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A607682313/GIC?u=meri99991&sid=GIC&xid=7f20b1dc. Accessed 31 Jan. 2020.
  2. Dodds, Laurence. ‘Instagram deleted 1.7m images following Molly Russell suicide.’ Daily Telegraph [London, England], 14 Nov. 2014, p. 9. Gale In Context: Global Issues, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A605714823/GIC?u=meri99991&sid=GIC&xid=682184fd. Accessed 31 Jan. 2020.
  3. ‘Investigators from Harvard University School of Medicine Zero in on Mental Health Diseases and Conditions (Risks To Privacy With Use of Social Media: Understanding the Views of Social Media Users With Serious Mental Illness).’ Mental Health Weekly Digest, 22 July 2019, p. 187. Gale In Context: Opposing Viewpoints, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A594030690/OVIC?u=meri99991&sid=OVIC&xid=e70964f8. Accessed 31 Jan. 2020.
  4. Kartchner, Collin. “Helping Teens Rise Above Social Media Negativity.” #SaveTheKids, Shopify, savethekids.us/.
  5. Marx, Karal. ‘Fathima Latheef suicide case: IIT-Madras says social media trolling and trial by media demoralizing students and staff.’ Times of India, 16 Nov. 2015, p. NA. Gale In Context: Global Issues, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A609484437/GIC?u=meri99991&sid=GIC&xid=161e4398. Accessed 31 Jan. 2020.
  6. Public Affairs. “What Is Cyberbullying.” StopBullying.gov, 4 Dec. 2019, www.stopbullying.gov/cyberbullying/what-is-it.
  7. Riehm, Kiera. ‘Is time spent using social media associated with mental health problems among adolescents?’ Mental Health Weekly Digest, 23 Sept. 2019, p. 323. Gale In Context: Opposing Viewpoints, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A600379854/OVIC?u=meri99991&sid=OVIC&xid=126f99da. Accessed 27 Jan. 2020.
  8. Salim, Saima. “How Much Time Do You Spend on Social Media? Research Says 142 Minutes per Day.” Digital Information World, 4 Jan. 2019, www.digitalinformationworld.com/2019/01/how-much-time-do-people-spend-social-media-infographic.html.
  9. “Social Media Fingered for Rising in Youth Suicide; Now the second leading and fastest-growing cause of death in 15-25 age group.’ Cape Argus [South Africa], 9 Oct. 2019, p. 3. Gale In Context: Global Issues, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A602066806/GIC?u=meri99991&sid=GIC&xid=731b4573. Accessed 31 Jan. 2020.
  10. Williams, Martin. ‘Scots speed skating champion breaks from social media to improve mental health.’ Herald [Glasgow, Scotland], 2 Jan. 2016, p. NA. Gale In Context: Global Issues, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A610286531/GIC?u=meri99991&sid=GIC&xid=f3ad4c66. Accessed 29 Jan. 2016.

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