People of all ages and from all walks of life die by suicide each year, all across the world. In fact, it is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States in particular.
And there are plenty of heartbreaking anecdotal evidence of the seriousness of suicide as well. When Dean Santha died earlier this year, the city of Stuttgart and in Germany as a whole organised some events to try and battle the growing online culture which deals so much with suicide. On Sunday, a suicidal 36-year-old man from Düsseldorf hanged himself in the bathroom of his flat with his own head in the middle of it. The next day, two 16 year-olds in Würzburg took to their own lives.
Like the previous examples, these deaths are precisely what one expects to see when online communities develop and get involved with adolescent problems, tin fact, they are part of the way that they rapidly spread online.
For teenage suicide in particular, the contagion effect of this online age is clearly visible on the Internet. This is perhaps due to the fact that community interaction online has become a major aspect of many adolescent’s lives. They have to meet their peers, they need to be able to talk with them, listen to them, find out what they are up to, and not only can they talk with the other teens online, but also follow their progress online and find out if they are doing well, too.
But in fact, for teenage suicides, there are two major problems. First, social media is often not the best way of talking about one’s problems. Usually the discussions are done on the chat room, which therefore is easily accessible to the teenagers who are most likely to die by suicide. Second, social media is the very conducive to online bullying and trolling, which is largely what causes teens and adults alike to get depressed and eventually contemplate or commit suicide. Without any kind of specialist support to stop the online suicide contagion, these suicides are continuously increasing, but the problem is essentially the same. One shouldn’t be surprised that the trend isn’t moving in a positive direction overnight.
But one should be worried because this isn’t just a German problem, or a United States problem. Whenever we talk about suicide on Twitter, we always wonder whether the trend is going to cause an epidemic. Even though no one has any idea just how many people are reading suicide related tweets, our social media networks expand enough to make our world feel like a world in which every suicide is suspected and every teenage is searching for confirmation of his or her own suicidal feelings. And more and more studies are coming out showing that people being exposed to political events or breaking news objects directly causes them to feel worse about themselves, justifying the idea of a suicide or even being a martyr in some cases. People who tweet about suicide therefore remove themselves from that environment, allowing them to witness an actual instance of underage suicide for the first time.
It is a very difficult task because, as we know, breaking news issues are even more powerful than death, because they can change the public’s mind. And living in a very polarizing political climate today only makes every single happening in the world add significant fuel to the social media fire. With more fire, there is more attacking each other, which leads to hurt feelings and in some cases suicide.
Again, at the end of the day, this is an issue that involves all of us. Gossiping about celebrities is bad. Sure, in most cases it doesn’t cause any real harm, but on the other hand the possibility of pushing someone over the edge, whether they are a celebrity or any old regular Joe, is very real. And that possibility, no matter how small, is not worth it. Suicide is a terrible outcome of mental illness yes, but also a terrible consequence of online bullying. We all need to work together to clean up the online community, and lessen the prevalence of suicide worldwide.