Anxiety created by social media turmoil on the Internet ranks high among contributing factors to a sharp increase in suicides in America in the 21st century, says a new federal report released Friday.
The data says last decade’s severe recession, more drug addition, increased social isolation and actions spurred by social media and the Internet have doubled the annual increase of those who take their own lives, says the Center for Study and Prevention of Suicide at the University of Rochester Medical Center.
Social isolation, bullying — both the old fashioned kind as well as cyberbullying — and the rise of the Internet contribute to the “risk factors” to suicide, says Alex Crosby, chief of the surveillance branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s violence prevention division.
“We know something about the risk factors going up and protective factors going down,” he says.
Bullying and cyberbullying are cited as contributors to recent spikes in suicides among teenagers in schools.
“People were growing up with a certain expectation…and the Great Recession and other things have really changed that, Julie A. Phillips, professor of sociology at Rutgers, told The Washington Post.
Phillips studies “the demography of suicide,” and adds: “Things aren’t panning out the way people expect. I feel for sure that has had an effect.”
Other factors include being a victim of violence or child abuse. So are having parents who abuse substances or have been in jail or prison.
Suicide is one of the 10 leading causes for death of Americans and the National Center for Health Statistics says suffocation — mostly from hangings — has risen by 89 percent overall and by 157 percent for white women.
Even with the 14 homicide deaths in Ohio and Georgia Thursday and Friday, the U.S. homicide death rate is less than dying from suicide. Among whites, suicides outnumber homicides 7-1.
A study by Princeton University last year said most of the people who kill themselves nowadays are middle-aged whites with less education who live in rural areas.
Men kill themselves successfully with guns or leaps from buildings or bridges. Women attempt suicide far more often but also fail at a higher rate.
“The Internet can be a double-edged sword,” says Sally C. Curtin, a statistician for the National Center for Health Statistics and the lead author of the study released Friday.
“Prevention materials can be widely disseminated, but also you can just Google ‘suicide.’ It’s just very different how much information we have at our fingertips.”
On the Internet, one can easily find advice on how to commit suicide, including advice on using plastic bags for suffocation. They are called “exit bags.”
Searches on Yahoo and Google for words linked to suicide brought up paid ads for advice books and other paraphernalia. Yahoo and Google said they have policies against such ads and block them whenever they find them.
I ran a search on Google on “how to kill yourself” and it returned 12.2 million responses. First on the list was a link to “7 Easiest Plainless Ways of Killing Yourself Quickest,” followed by “How to Kill Yourself – Instructables.”
Google, at least, topped the search listing with a link and phone number to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.”