A recent paper published in the journa Clinical Psychological Science has sounded the alarm (again) about a serious public health problem: the substantial and rapid rise in the number of teen suicides.
The increased rate of teen suicides directly parallels the advent of the smartphone and the rise of social media. The study we’re referring to is titled “Increases in Depressive Symptoms, Suicide-Related Outcomes, and Suicide Rates Among U.S. Adolescents After 2010 and Links to Increased New Media Screen Time.” The last five words may be the most important.
It looks like an increase in the screen time spent on new media — Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr and even Google, Yahoo and texting — is associated with an increase in teen self-harm and suicide attempts!
Bullying is rampant on social media; teens are particularly vulnerable. There’s little effective self-defense and, often, even strangers “pile on.” The smartphone means there’s is no escape 24/7.
Isolation is another result of increased screen time, even though kids often think it creates more friends. The study says iGens (adolescents 13- to 18-years-old in the years 2010 to 2015) spent more time on electronic communication and less time on in-person interaction than their Millennial and GenX predecessors at the same age. And that physical isolation breeds depression.
The smartphone evolved from the Blackberry 2006; the iPhone 2007; and Google Android for T-Mobile in 2008. The Pew Research Center says as of 2015, 73 percent of teens had a smartphone; 16 percent had a basic phone (some overlap with smartphones here) and 13 percent had no phone. (How ironic that those without may be the lucky ones.)
According to the researchers, kids seeking help for mental health issues increased by 30 percent over that same time period. This could be explained by improvements in mental-health assessment and access to counseling. However, between 2009-2010 and 2015, 33 percent more adolescents (especially females) exhibited high levels of depressive symptoms, 12 percent more reported at least one suicide-related outcome (unsuccessful attempts), and 31 percent more died by suicide.
Another study evaluated 43,138 visits to the emergency department by kids 12 to 18 for self-inflicted, non-fatal injury from 2001 to 2015. There was no statistically significant trend before 2009. After, there was a spike in self-inflicted injury
emergency visits among females (poisoning was No. 1 cause). And every year since 2009 saw an increase of 8.4 percent (or more) from 110 per 100,000 population in 2009, to 318 in 2015. The greatest increase hit girls 10 to 14. Trends among males were stable.
What the Health Industry Can Do
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Injury Prevention and Control suggests that within our existing health systems we need to “provide and implement evidence- based comprehensive suicide and self-harm prevention strategies,” which include “access to and delivery of care for suicidal youth by creating protective environments, promoting youth connectedness [without phones], teaching coping and problem-solving skills and identifying and supporting at-risk youth within communities.”
What Parents Can Do
You can take steps to enact the CDC recommendations in your home. Selfinflicted harm among teens is preventable:
Talk to your teens; discuss counseling; curb the use of smart devices. True, when you take away a 16-year-old’s smartphone the first thing you’ll hear is, “How am I supposed to stay in touch with my friends?” But it’s good to keep in mind that when the Blackberry was first introduced, it was referred to by some as “Crackberry” because of its addictive properties.
Parents need to help their children find face-to-face ways of connecting to friends through team sports, school clubs and shared hobbies.
Give teens a basic phone to stay in touch (your folks didn’t even have that and they turned out OK).
Limit tablet and computer time at home to homework/brief socializing. Have no digital devices in the bedroom. Maybe it would be smart to start treating smartphones like liquor and tobacco.
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Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into “The Dr. Oz Show” or visit www.sharecare.com.
© 2017 Michael Roizen, M.D. and Mehmet Oz, M.D. Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc
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