Is Social Media Causing More Suicides? The Answer Will Surprise You

Periscope users want to see what's in your fridge
NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 11: In this photo illustration the Twitter website is displayed on a mobile phone at a NRL match on July 11, 2009 in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Reddit. These terms are such a part of many peoples’ vernacular that they may not even understand how much they talk about what they see on social media, or even realize how much time is spent on social media. Of course, the appeal is alluring – it gives the viewer a chance to have a glimpse at others’ lives and stay in touch with friends and relatives. That should be something that makes the viewer feel more connected to society, not less, right? Wrong.

We already know through various studies that social media and happiness are correlated, as previously reported by Inquistr. The reason for this is not entirely clear, but it is assumed that people may be peering into others’ lives and comparing them to their own and frequently finding that they subjectively feel their own lives do not measure up. Of course, that impresson is likely a false one – people only post on social media what they wish for others to see and things that will give others a positive impression. Some people may even consciously or unconsciously attempt to make others envious of their great relationship, beautiful home, adorable children, successful career. Since that’s all the viewer is typically seeing, the viewer concludes that is an accurate representation of the user’s life, and they feel their lives are less successful, less fulfilled.

Because of the massive influence of social media, especially with younger people, there’s a growing concern among researchers and psychiatrists that people most at risk for suicide could be actually more at risk to commit suicide when trying to seek help on some social media sites.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Lead researcher Munmun De Choudhury and her team of researchers from Georgia Tech conducted a study to find out if there is a relationship between social media use and suicide. The researchers reviewed approximately 66,000 posts from 19,000 users between October 2013 and December 2014 on the social media site Reddit. While collecting data, researchers found a disturbing phenomenon on a suicide support group on Reddit called Suicide Watch. The lead researcher explained what was discovered.

“What we found was that suicidal thoughts and tendencies, which are typically expressed through the content that is shared on social media, that showed a change in tone, and not just tone. We also noticed that there was more volume of such content that was being shared on the support forum for SuicideWatch. For instance, around the passing away of Robin Williams, we noticed a two week period following his passing away, there was an increased rate of posting on that forum around suicide and also people were engaged in sharing more self-destructive and negative thoughts and emotions on that forum in that two week period.”

Bariatric surgery to cause weight loss is also associated with suicide, although the reasons are unclear. It may be something physiological or psychological, or it may be because the surgery did not meet the individual’s expectations. Positive stress can still be a stessor, causing dramatic change to a person’s life and self perception that can be difficult to get used to. In these cases, if the person feels depressed, hopeless, notices changes in eating, sleeping and sexual patterns, the individual should contact their physician immediately. Help is available through counseling and medication, but ignoring thoughts of death or suicide only compounds the problem and makes the individual more likely to feel isolated. It is important that people understand their individual risks (such as a history of depression) when using social media sites and other seemingly harmless activities.

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