Internet and Youth suicide: What do we know?

It is not surprising to observe that internet exerts positive and negative influences over its users. There are increasing concerns over its effect on teenagers and their mental health.  Cyber bullying and self harm are two prominent issues in this regard. Scientific enquiries  are gradually exploring these issues .

Marchant, Hawton & Stewart  et al comprehensively  reviewed  the potential influence  of the internet on self-harm/suicidal behaviour in young people. This systematic review covered all publications that primarily studied internet use by individuals who experienced suicidal ideation, self-harm, or internet use which was clearly related to self-harm content among users under 25. 51 articles were included in this review. A total of 192,950 individuals participated across these studies.

Results

High internet use and internet addiction appear to have largely negative influences. More than two or five hours per day ( different studies) were associated with suicidal ideation.

Self-harm and suicidal ideation were related to searching online for suicide information and that searches for specific methods were related to rates of suicide in young people

Positive influences included lower levels of loneliness.  A potential protective influence of low levels of internet use when compared with no internet use at all was also reported.

Health professionals expressed discomfort about engaging with young people in an online setting and had concerns over duty of care.

Specific processes ( harmful)  related to internet use:

  1. Normalisation
  2. Glorification
  3. Competition:  triggering and competition between users
  4. Contagion
  5. Information resource:  Harmful information sources for vulnerable individuals

Specific processes ( helpful)

  1. A sense of community
  2. Crisis support
  3. Reduction of social isolation

Comments 

Several major social media platforms  have  implemented policies regarding posts related to self-harm ( Such content may not be searchable, is banned or brings up links to counselling and prevention resources).

On the background of the ‘blue whale challenge’ widely reported in many media, the statement from European Psychiatric Association ( suicidology section) is worth reflecting on. …..Anyway, actually we really don’t know either the game’s existence or its role in child and teenage suicides or acts of self-harm…. Professor Sonia Livingstone from the London School of Economics told WIRED: “The importance of media literacy to identify and reject fake news is vital for everyone, but especially for parents whose anxieties about their children’s safety make them too easily to fall prey to clickbait designed to trap them. The responsibilities of journalists to check their facts and sources has also never been so great, as the Blue Whale scare illustrates clearly.”,…..

Nonetheless, the implications of the phenomenon are important, at least from the sociological point of view, no matter if it is a false news or it is proven in some cases……

…..Every alarming news, every service that drives the macabre storytelling, every act of self-harm and violence automatically may fuel a vicious cycle of suggestion and discomfort……

 

Human embroidery’ is now a new ‘self harming art’ that is slowly spreading in China.  The need to show , share , shock and scare is taking an ever  prominent place in our lives. This might be a ‘minority’ phenomenon , but its ‘ normalising’ effect can be huge.

It is important to protect children from online dangers and also let them know the existence of support networks involved in offering help to people who need it…..Health departments should take initiative to create online resources and confidential support networks .

Summary of the article.

A systematic review of the relationship between internet use, self-harm and suicidal behaviour in young people: The good, the bad and the unknown.

Marchant A, Hawton K, Stewart A, Montgomery P, Singaravelu V, Lloyd K, Purdy N, Daine K, John A. PLoS One. 2017 Aug 16;12(8):e0181722. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0181722. eCollection 2017.

 

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