It’s no secret. Suicide is an epidemic for the young population. It’s far too common, far too close to home, far too accessible.

The reason for the rising prevalence of suicide, especially in young women? Smartphone usage. At least that’s what the experts and news outlets are citing.

Which, I definitely agree that social media can be very dangerous when it becomes all-consuming in somebody’s life. It pits us against our peers when we focus on the number of likes or we stare at the “amazing” lives others seem to have. Social media also degrades the value of in-person social interaction which is crucial in maintaining our mental health. That means we keep falling into a vicious cycle of longing for more of the wrong things and still feeling empty.

Not to mention the problem of cyberbullying. I was ignorant at one point for thinking that trolling online and just rude comments had subsided to an extent, but it’s more of me being used to it, a “natural” part of being online and putting yourself out there. People out there will always want to use the advantage of typing behind a glowing screen to say whatever they wouldn’t say in person. Get in fights for no reason whatsoever. Leave messages that make others feel awful.

And when younger and younger kids are now scrolling on smartphones and making social media accounts, they aren’t ready for that. Nobody deserves it, first off. But compared to normal bullying, we still don’t really know how to address and punish those who cyberbully. People can easily hide behind fake personas and usernames, making it hard to actually track down the culprits.

But the effects are just as powerful as normal teasing and taunting. Again, at a young age, as kids are building up their self-identities and self-esteems, social media is an obvious outlet where they can express themselves and learn how they fit in. So when others use those same outlets as a release of their own insecurities to hurt others, that’s when we have problems. Lots of them.

Social media, however, should not be seen as the sole factor at play for the rise in suicide. We have shows like Thirteen Reasons Why that glamorize suicide and make it seem like an acceptable way to deal with tough circumstances. Our consumer-minded society craving instant gratification and constant stimulation makes us unhappy and unfulfilled. We still shy away from mental health treatment, especially when it comes to young people. We blame hormones or puberty or just “growing up” as the reasons for seeing more depressed and anxious young people.

We cannot focus upon one single factor as the cause-effect dictator of growing suicide numbers. The situation is much more complicated, no matter how much we want to simplify it. We can make the conscious steps to limit cell phone usage and social media etiquette, but we must still talk about the elephant in the room: mental health.

Because mental health doesn’t just become a concern once you hit a certain age. It should always be a priority. And we neglect teaching kids about its importance. We blindly tote suicide hotlines but we ignore the potential signs before reaching that breaking point. Chances are, it didn’t come out of thin air. Somebody doesn’t become suicidal just from reading online comments. There’s mental turmoil that nobody sees, and we don’t really acknowledge that it’s there. So yes, kids are going to resort to suicide because it truly feels like the only option.

Treatment should be a valued option at any age. More young people now take anxiety medication and antidepressants not because we are always on your smartphones, but because we recognize the signs more often. Just from what I know about myself, I think I would have really benefited from a diagnosis, from possible medication, from therapy. So many other people would, too. They would actually feel like they aren’t alone, that it’s not just all in their head. Their emotions and thoughts would be taken seriously. They could be proactive in preventing future complications.

As times change and we are so heavily influenced by the internet, we must adapt our approach to teaching young people about respect and overall wellness. First off, obviously I’m only a parent to a dog, but let kids be kids. The second they receive a smartphone, they immediately feel the pressure to grow up faster, to launch into the game of Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. Still give kids that gap of time where they aren’t reliant upon a smartphone for constant entertainment, or at least limit their time on their phones. Develop healthy habits from the start. Social media is an amazing tool for connecting with others, but with any tool, too much of its use results in the negative consequences we keep seeing on news headlines.

And let’s make the effort to make health transparent. If we’re shoving nutritional advice and food pyramids and physical activity in kids’ faces, the least we can do is promote self-care, how to handle stress, and resources like counseling. They are just as, if not more, important than the physical health habits. No, mental illness isn’t a glamorous topic, it’s not something that can be made into a fun game. But it’s so necessary.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie



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