Experts on Why Suicidal Thoughts Have Doubled in Youth

Suicidal thoughts and attempts have doubled in children and teens between the ages of 5 to 17 from 2008, according to a new study.

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The study, which was led by Gregory Plemmons, an associate professor of pediatrics at Vanderbilt’s Children’s Hospital, says that while he’s not sure what is driving the increase, he did find seasonal variations in suicidality and self-harm cases with summer months (June thru August) having the lowest percentage of cases, and the highest percentage falling during the spring and fall, which is when school is typically in session.

“There are various current theories, ranging from social media and cyberbullying to increasing difficulty in coping skills and resilience among youth,” Plemmons tells FOX Business.

The new data, released this week from the American Academy of Pediatrics, found that suicidal thoughts or attempts by those between the ages of 5 and 17 increased to 1.79% in 2015, from 0.67% in 2008.

The surge was especially seen in 15- to 17-year-olds, with an average annual increase of 0.27% being diagnosed with suicidal tendencies. It was far lower, but still measurable, for 5- to 11-year-olds, who saw a 0.02% annual increase.

The data echoes similar findings from the CDC in 2014 that revealed the rate of suicide deaths among children between the ages of 10 and 14 had doubled since 2007.

But many experts say that while bullying and cyberbullying may be contributing factors, the issue goes far deeper.

“While we don’t have conclusive data to tell us why there’s been the significant increase, I think there are a number of factors at play here. One is access to care. We have more youth who need mental health care than are getting it and by the time they do, they often are in more significant trouble and need hospitalization for their own safety,” Doctor Daniel Reidenberg, executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education and managing director of the National Council for Suicide Prevention, tells FOX Business.

Ross Ellis, a national bullying and cyberbullying expert, agrees that there are myriad factors involved in the recent stats.

“Many of these kids aren’t just dealing with bullying. Some have mental health issues, some have other issues. We can’t blame every child/teen suicide on bullying. And quite a bit of it is caused by contagion behavior. Kids see/hear about other kids taking their lives due to bullying and think they should do the same thing,” Ellis says.

Last year, Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) was in hot water after a 12-year-old girl from Georgia hung herself from a tree while streaming it live on the social media platform. Her body was seen hanging for more than 15 minutes before the video was taken down.

Last November, CEO Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged that Facebook needed to take a stronger approach to identify harmful posts and other potential warning signs among its users during the company’s first Social Good Forum.

“In recent years, it has become clear that a core part of helping to grow a community is helping to keep you safe. That is a fundamental responsibility and something that we take very seriously,” Zuckerberg said. Facebook claims it is now using “artificial intelligence” to help spot dangerous posts.

Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) also got some heat in March for releasing “13 Reasons Why,” an original fictional series centered around the suicide of 17-year-old Hannah Baker, who left behind several cassette tapes laying blame for her death on various actions or inactions by her classmates.

Ellis says the media and entertainment world is contributing to the cause, not helping.

“While the media reports these suicides, they should not be reporting how the child took their life. It gives kids ideas. Of course social media is a huge issue. Kids check their social media a minimum [of] 100 times a day because they have a need to see what is being said about them. Yet, when a kid posts to another on social media that they should go kill themselves, some kids take this seriously because others have done the same,” she adds.

Reidenberg says the data is alarming and should be concerning for all parents.

“We need to make sure that parents are talking to their kids not just once or twice, but on a regular basis to make sure their child(ren) know that if something is wrong, someone cares. We also need to make sure parents know [of] community resources in case there is a problem for their child. Finally, it is really important that parents convey to their child that there are treatments available that work and kids can get through really hard times,” he says.