The Social Side of Suicide

Suicide prevention has been around for centuries, but has found a new enemy in social media. Know what to look for and how to keep kids safe and educated.

By Dwain Hebda

Social media's impact on youth suicide

Experts in the field of suicide prevention and counseling say with improved communication channels information arrives faster and more detailed, which makes the problem thornier than ever. From one angle, suicide is the same as it ever was; from another, it’s a byproduct of a dangerous new world of social media.

“Suicide is a complicated behavior, not caused by a single event like a bad grade or the breakup of a relationship,” said Cyndi Coleman, outpatient administrator with Methodist Family Health. “Suicide risk can be exacerbated by traumatic and stressful life experiences such as abuse, death, divorce, relationship breakups, bullying or school failures.

“Social media has provided a platform that not only makes bullying anonymous and easier to engage in or be the target of, but it can also impact a teen’s self-esteem and amplify feelings of rejection. Additionally, LGBTQ youth are at significantly higher risk for suicidal behavior due to the complicating factors of rejection by their own family.

Coleman said about the only thing that’s truly constant is Arkansas’s sad place of distinction on national suicide rankings, 10th in the nation at last count. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 577 Arkansans died by their own hand in 2015, a rate of just over 19 deaths per 100,000 people. More than twice as many people killed themselves than died by homicide.

Over the past decade, suicide rates in Arkansas have decreased only twice—in 2009 and slightly in 2014—and have risen over that 10-year period by about 32 percent. And even those sobering statistics probably don’t tell the whole story. “The thing is, with suicides we’ll never have an accurate number of attempts because you could try to kill yourself and no one would ever know about it,” said Susie Reynolds Reece, violence prevention specialist for CHI St. Vincent Hot Springs and founder of Suicide Prevention Allies. “We do know that for every one death we’re looking at between 100 to 200 attempts that are being made. That’s a significant number and those numbers are higher in our youth population.”

Reece placed some of the blame on social media for the rise in suicide deaths. She also said particularly among young people, emulation is another factor, whether it’s a classmate or a celebrity.

“If you’re struggling with suicidality and you look at someone like Robin Williams who is well-loved, who is famous, who has money, who has all of these things and you have none of those things and he dies from suicide, your thoughts may be ‘If he did that, why should I live?’” she said. “Any time we see celebrity deaths from either suicide or substance overdose, even with Philip Seymour Hoffman or Prince, you see those numbers go up with our National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.”

Making matters worse, for as much attention as these deaths receive, suicide remains arguably the most taboo subject matter for parents to broach with their children. “What healthcare professionals and mental health advocates want children and parents to know is, suicide is a real threat,” Coleman said. “Do parents, in general, talk about this soon enough? No.

“Parents should start having conversations about mental and emotional health as part of wellness early on and continue and evolve that conversation as children become teenagers. Even if your child is not at risk for suicide, the chances are that someone they know or care about will be.” Reese agreed, saying for as far as society has come technologically, strategies for getting to the bottom of what your child may be going through really haven't changed all that much. “Suicide prevention virtually began in the 1500s, so there’s nothing new under the sun,” Reece said. “I would say, know  what your kids are doing, know what they’re into because there’s some things that are disturbing. Be aware of this issue. Try and listen to what’s going on in the schools as well. Kids are talking about things and they often know if Billy’s struggling with something that the teachers may not know about. “Unfortunately we can’t know everything, but if we would all work together on these things, it would be a lot easier for all of us.

See Something, Say Something

Few people spontaneously take their own life; most give hints and display warning behaviors well before they actually attempt it.


• Talking about dying, disappearing, jumping or other types of self-harm.
• Recent loss through death, divorce or broken relationships, losing interest in friends and activities.
• Change in personality such as becoming sad, withdrawn or irritable.
• Change in behavior, sleep patterns or eating habits.
• Fear of losing control, acting erratically, harming self or others.
• Low self-esteem, feeling worthlessness, shame or self-hatred.
• No hope for the future, believing things will never get better or ever change.

Source: American Psychological Association


ACKNOWLEDGE: Take it seriously and listen. If you are noticing warning signs or you hear something that sounds troubling, recognizing that something is wrong is the first step.

CARE: Take the initiative and show and/or voice your concern. When someone is suffering it can be difficult for them to remember there are people that care.

TREATMENT: Get professional help immediately.