With today’s constant digital connectivity, it’s easy to see how internet trends and pop culture themes play a large role in the lives of teens. But suicide in teens is one media-driven trend that is crossing lines that never should have been drawn.
Suicide is the second largest cause of death in the 15 to 24 age group, with over 5,000 teen suicides in the year 2014. And, thanks in part to suicidal games like Blue Whale and shows like 13 Reasons Why, those numbers aren’t backing down anytime soon.
Are We Living in a Suicide Culture?
The impacts of social connectedness and digital media consumptions hasn’t been without its downfalls. Since the end of suicide’s decline in 1986, there has been an onslaught of games, television shows, and movies that tend to glamorize suicide, particularly teen suicide.
This dark 1989 comedy changed the way an entire generation viewed suicide with its all-star Hollywood cast and unrealistic transpiring of events. The movie depicted suicide as the easy answer to a variety of problems, with nuances that it’s the only way out if things don’t go as planned. Yet despite its thematic nature, the movie garnered rave reviews and a cult following that still exists today. The acclaim stems not from the way the movie handled the subject of suicide and high school culture, but of the comical and morbid components that lent to its success.
Blue Whale “Game”
A recent glamorization of teen suicide has cropped up in the social media-based Blue Whale suicide game. This game has been connected with 130 teen deaths in Russia, and police now believe they have the suspected ringleader in custody.
Authorities suspect that the game moderator assigns tasks to members of the group, which they must complete within 50 days. Some of these tasks include self-inflicted harm, watching horror movies, and waking up at odd hours. On the last day of the game, the final task is delivered: commit suicide.
Teens are drawn to the game by believing they have a chance to connect with others and “fit in.” Players may find it difficult to stand up to this type of peer pressure, especially when something seems popular among others. While the game has not been connected to suicides outside of Russia, schools in the UK issued a warning to parents to look out for similar activity. While the purported suspect remains in custody, there’s still a chance for copycats to create their own suicide games.
13 Reasons Why
The popular 13 Reasons Why Netflix show that came out in March 2017 was based on a book of the same name, published by Jay Asher in 2007. In this show, a high school sophomore leaves behind a series of tapes for those who had something to do with her decision to commit suicide. Each person is given the chance to listen to the tapes, then must pass them on to the next person.
13 Reasons Why hits on a variety of tough subjects, from bullying to sexual assault to lack of intervention (even after asking for help). But while these core messages are strong in their own right, the novelty around the tapes that tell the girl’s suicide story remained stronger. The creativity in the writing and depiction outweighed the thirteen reasons described in the tapes. This creativity sparked a copycat suicide in Peru by a 23-year-old man who left behind tapes that detailed his reasons for taking his life.
The 4Chan Attempted Suicide
For some, watching a Hollywood suicide or reading about teen suicide in the news keeps the topic of suicide at bay, as though it’s not quite real or too far away to matter. But seeing one live-streamed online brings the subject face to face with reality, and its effects are well beyond disturbing.
In November 2013, one young man proclaimed on the social website 4Chan that he was going to end his life that very night and wanted to share his final moments with the community via live stream. But instead of commenters summoning for help, they encouraged him to fulfill his threats.
Another user set up a chatroom and 200 users crowded the space to watch the man swallow pills and chase them with vodka before lighting his dorm on fire. Firefighters were able to save him, but others who have tried similar online suicide methods weren’t so lucky.
Suicide on Facebook Live
In December 2016, a 12-year old girl from Northwest Georgia Facebook live-streamed her hanging.
She was taken to the hospital, but doctors couldn’t save her. What’s more electrifying than her live suicide is the fact that other websites have posted the video for others to see. Digital media outlets appear to value views, clicks, and general buzz rather than the issue and its moral and ethical obligations.
Teen Suicide Prevention
The first step to teen suicide prevention is to talk to your teen about suicide. If you have a teen in your life, you should learn how to spot teen suicide warning signs. Research shows that four out of five teens who commit suicide gave warning signs:
- Talking about suicide
- Communicating a feeling of hopelessness or worthlessness
- Depression Obsessed with death or dying
- Risky behavior
- Behavior that’s out of character
- Not showing interest in things they used to care about
- Not calling or visiting loved ones
- Making personal arrangements, such as giving away prized possessions
In addition, there are certain risk factors that can increase your teen’s risk of suicidal tendencies:
- Perfectionist desires
- Learning disabilities
- Poor self-esteem
- Abuse by a loved one
- Mental illness
You can further help prevent suicide by knowing what your teen is doing, who they text, how they are handling school and their social lives, who their friends are, and where they go.
If you suspect your teen may be considering suicide, you should immediately seek help from a local mental health provider. Depending on the severity, you may find that inpatient treatment provides the best chance at helping your teen overcome their suicidal thinking.
If you or someone you know is at immediate risk, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: 1-800-273-8255. The line is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Confidential help is available for free. If this is an emergency and you think someone’s life may be in danger, call 911.