Suicide Prevention Month: Social Media’s Connection to Suicide, By: Jennifer A. Grisham



Photo by Georgia de Lotz
            In today’s world, it may come to no surprise that the leading cause of death for teens and young adults is suicide.  I often think about how different the world is today from the world in which my parents grew up in.  You did not need a degree from a university in order to find a good, steady job and craft a stable life. These days you need more than a college degree, you need graduate school.  The standards for education keep rising, jobs are becoming scarcer because there are so many qualified/overqualified people, and means of living is much too costly for most middle-class families to feel remotely comfortable.  The amount of pressure we receive is overwhelming and it certainly does not help our mental health.  In fact, it has an even greater negative impact than we could imagine.  Social media, which has grown exponentially in terms of necessities for humans, only adds to these pressures.

            I remember as a child how much I loved AOL chat rooms.  These rooms offered me a place to escape my daily life and make new friends online.  It also gave me the ability to get homework help when my teachers did not yet use e-mail as an offered form of communication.  The internet quickly became another life and an addiction for me.  For many others, young in age or not, the internet offers a world of opportunities and areas of exploration.  This becomes problematic as much as it can be considered a beautiful thing.  The introduction of social media into modern-day has not only opened us up to amazing forms of communication, connection, and information, but it also opens us up to cyberbullying, mental health deterioration, and worse.

            We have almost innately instilled within our muscle memory the need to check our Instagram, Twitters, or Facebook whenever our cellular device is in our hand.  It is almost as if they have become permanent additions to our appendages.  There is research out there that says constantly being exposed to what everyone else is doing all the time can lead us to have negative feelings about our own life.  Although we might feel happy to see others we care for doing so well, sometimes it can foster a sense of loneliness or create even more feelings of isolation.  Social media can make you feel depressed, and I feel as though that is certainly true.

            Bullying has become even more of an issue because of social media.  It is easy to hide behind a screen and attack others to make yourself feel powerful.  With a click of a button, a nasty phrase or photo can reach thousands in seconds.  Coming back from being a victim of cyber-bullying is incredibly difficult.  Teenagers and adults both face the risk of being bullied online every day and it greatly impacts their mental health.  I have seen it happen within my own platforms I participate in on my social media accounts.  I have even had it happen to me.  As someone who is a giant advocate for mental health, I can’t tell you that social media has done anything to help my anxiety except make it worse on occasions.  Thus, it is unsurprising to see the negative connection between social media and mental health.

Photo by Becca Tapert
         Considering the internet gives us constant information overload, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline works with different social networking sites to promote education on mental health and resources on how to get help.  I can’t emphasize enough that if you are suffering from thoughts of self-harm: use the resources!  Call the hotline 1-800-273-TALK and just talk to someone, especially if you feel like you have no one in your life to listen to you. 

It is also just as important to make sure you are taking care of your mental health when you are using social media actively, like I am:

1.      Take Breaks.  If you feel over-whelmed, do not be afraid to take a step back.  You are not obligated to have a presence if you are not feeling up to it.  Everyone and everything will be back when you return.  You come first.
2.      The Block Button is Your Friend.  If someone is offering you nothing but toxic energy in your life, or they are treating you poorly block them.  This is your personal space and it is okay to not share it with those who are not going to treat it appropriately.
3.      Take Time for Yourself.  Put the phone down, don’t swipe right, and stop scrolling.  Turn off social media notifications when you are winding down for the evening.  Allow yourself moments to grab a cup of coffee in quiet, curl up with a book, or binging television shows.
4.      Allow Yourself to be Present.  Be with your family and friends and really be with them.  Resist the urge to look at your accounts when you are spending time with those you love.  Not only will you be able to create wonderful memories, but you will truly be able to have the capacity to feel good

            At the end of the day, it is only social media.  Your mental health and the way you are feeling about yourself are worth more than simple digital airspace.  I have only recently been learning how to step back and away when I need to, and the effects of doing so have made a tremendous difference on how I feel.  You need to value you.  Remember, you matter and you are enough.

 

Note:  If you or a friend are experiencing thoughts of suicide, please reach out to the Prevention Hotline number: 1-800-273-TALK.


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