September is Suicide Prevention and Awareness month so let’s review the numbers – 132 Americans die by suicide each day. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in ages 10-34.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 90 percent of those who die by suicide had a diagnosable mental health condition at the time of their death.
Recently, I’ve reviewed data for suicide among young people, and noticed some startling trends: suicides among 10-15 year old girls have increased by 156 percent since 2008 when social media became a mainstay on the daily visual diet of the middle school child. I highly recommend watching “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix, if you haven’t canceled it already because of “Cuties” (We’ll get to that later) . “The Social Dilemma” is a dramatic documentary on the manipulative and divisive nature of social media. The documentary argues those who pay to advertise on social media are, in fact, paying for you – your time, attention, and personal information.
I saw it as a comparison to cows in a barn bragging about how everything is free: housing, food, safety, warmth, and the farmer in the background is figuring out the price of beef. We are the cows, and free social media apps, our browsing history and our smart phones are the farmers calculating how much our personal information is worth. We are being fed exactly what we want to see, and the more time we spend online lost in the Twitter-sphere or on Instagram, Snapchat, etc., the more advertising dollars are being generated. Unfortunately, the more time young people spend online the more likely they are to suffer from low self-esteem, depression, body image disorders and have anger management issues.
To put this in perspective, the pioneers of social media themselves reportedly refuse to let their own children have smart phones or be on any type of social media. What does that tell you?
Why are our young girls more susceptible to these deceptions? The false ideas of perfection, body image, identity, social justice, etc. run rampant across their feeds. As middle schoolers, they are still trying to figure out how to get to the science hall while being thrown into this adult world that is often polarizing and confusing.
What’s even more confusing is the way children are being portrayed in the media and across the entertainment industry. They are sexualized and monetized at alarming rates. Take Netflix’s new controversial film “Cuties” for instance. An 11-year-old girl turns against her parents’ conservative upbringing choosing instead a coming-of-age experience with a liberal “progressive” dance team. “Cuties” presents these young ladies in tiny dance costumes gyrating in a sexualized manner that could be classified as child pornography. Screen clips from this film are trending on Porn Hub.
On the other hand, the hottest dance trend and music on Tik-Tok right now is Cardi B’s WAP, which stands for a slang way to talk about a woman’s genitalia. The song is vulgar, descriptive radio pornography, but most parents have no idea their young daughters are posting themselves dancing to it on social media.
How does social media and unrealistic adult expectations drive the suicide rate up so drastically among young girls? By creating an atmosphere of self-loathing and inability to reach the standards the outside world is setting up for them. Young girls become targets of online bullying at a higher rate than young boys do, and media is constantly trying to push children away from their parents’ guidance – all for the sake of increased ad revenue.
Our daughters are not for sale.
If you believe your daughter or a young lady in your life is showing signs of withdrawal from friends and family, giving away prized possessions, speaking about harming themselves or talking about revenge, they may be contemplating suicide. Get involved. See what you can do to make a difference.
There is a plethora of resources to prevent and treat suicidal behavior. Unison Behavioral Health is a valuable local provider of mental health services and can provide free mental health first aid classes if requested.
If you or someone you love is struggling with suicidal thoughts or are experiencing a mental health crisis, call the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or go to SuicidePreventionLifeline.org.
• Stephanie Bell is Executive Director of Pierce County Family Connection.