Posted on May 03, 2023, 1 p.m.
Alarming research from Florida Atlantic University published in the journal Annals of Pediatrics and Child Health showed how suicide rates have more than doubled in America from 2008 to 2018 among children aged 13-14, corresponding with a rapid increase in the use of social media, despite the significant decline in suicide mortality in this group from 1999 to 2007.
The rates were similar in both city and rural areas but were more common among boys living in rural areas. Firearms played a role in 46.7% of suicides involving boys and 34.7% of incidents in urban areas. Additionally, suicides were more likely to occur between September and May, and they were found to be at the highest on Mondays, in a timeline that corresponds with an academic year suggesting that school may also be a major contributor in the age group.
“While further analytic studies are needed, there are certainly important clinical and public health implications based on our study findings,” Sarah K. Wood, MD, a senior author and professor of pediatrics at Florida Atlantic University. “Specifically, these descriptive data have temporal correlates with social media, school stress, and firearms, which require further research. In the meanwhile, there are clinical and public health initiatives for those at highest risks.”
Firearms are not the only common cause of death in this age group: In metropolitan areas 34.7% of suicides firearms were used while 56.7% of suicides involved suffocation, hanging, or strangulation between 2007 to 2018. In medium and small metro areas 38.9% involved these methods, and the same amount involved firearms. In rural areas, 46.7% of the suicides were a result of fatal gunshot wounds while 46.9% involved other methods such as suffocation, hanging, or strangulation.
“During the years immediately preceding the onset of increases in rates of suicide among 13 and 14-year-olds, several prominent social media platforms used by teens, including Reddit, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Myspace and Tumblr were launched. In aggregate, all of these sites have grown to billions of users, but large as they are, by 2018, all but YouTube were surpassed in terms of teen use by Instagram and Snapchat,” explains Charles H. Hennekens, first Sir Richard Doll Professor of Medicine at Florida Atlantic University and study co-author.
According to the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 76% of American teens aged 13-17 used Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook in that timeframe. Fast forward to the current days and Snapchat (34%) is now the most popular social media platform followed by TikTok (29%) and then Instagram (25%). Teens are more likely to use social media platforms that are designed and optimized for mobile use and messaging. Other research from Piper Sandler shows that 35% of teens voted for Snapchat as their favorite social media platform which was followed by TikTok with 30% of their votes.
The alarming increase in suicide rates was similar across the nation, with statistically significant increases observed in the Northeast, Midwest, South, and West. According to Hennekens, their data shows that non-metropolitan areas have higher rates of teen suicide, regardless of method.
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