Friday, November 14, 2014

Suicide and Cutting in the Youth Culture

As you may know, self-harm is a big problem among youth. According to an article by Fox News, 1 in every 200 girls age 13 to 19 cut themselves regularly. 40% of self-harmers are males.
The CDC reports that about 157,000 youth aged 10 to 24 receive medical care each year for self-inflicted injuries. Suicide is an even bigger problem, being the third leading cause of death for people age 15 to 24 according to Fox, 10 to 24 according to the CDC. The CDC did a nationwide survey of 9th to 12th graders that found that 16% of students were seriously considering suicide, 13% had made a plan, and 8% had tried to suicide in the year before the survey. While Millennials may not be the generation with the highest rates of suicide—at this point, that would be the Baby Boomers—these numbers are too high.

Lost All Hope, a website for those considering suicide, reports that in 2012, over half of all suicides were by firearm, almost a quarter were by suffocation or hanging, 16.6% were by poisoning, and 6% were by fall, cutting or piercing, drowning, transportation, and fire or burning.

I couldn’t find anything online about why youth attempt suicide or cut, but Walt Mueller says in his book Youth Culture 101 that they do it because of developmental, familial, and societal factors, as well as feelings of inferiority, desire for attention, revenge, substance abuse, and sexual abuse. We clearly can’t name any one factor for suicide or cutting—or even two or three—because the reasons youth do these things are so varied depending on the individual.

Even though the reasons teens attempt suicide are varied, there are some common warning signs. These include loss of interest in activities that used to be enjoyable; extreme changes in personality, sleep patterns, energy levels, hygiene, school performance, appetite, and social behaviors; unusual moods or behaviors such as sadness, irritability, aggression, defiance, indifference, guilt or feeling worthless, anxiety, and panic; difficulty concentrating; substance abuse; and hallucinations or strange beliefs. Youth considering suicide may talk about it, have a preoccupation with death, make a suicide plan, and begin giving away personal possessions or putting their affairs in order. Gay and lesbian youth are two to three times more likely than heterosexual youth to attempt suicide, and youth that have previously attempted suicide are at a greater risk of repeated attempts.

A new issue in the youth culture regarding suicide is social media. Some high profile youth suicides over the past few years have been related to cyber-bullying—using the internet to harass someone. Social media can also be used to publicize suicides or suicidal feelings, which may lead to a string of attempted suicides, as may have been the case of a Google+ video by an eighth grade boy in Zionsville, Indiana.

Hashtags, used on many social media websites, are also used to discuss suicide and self-harm, according to an article on Buzzfeed. Because some hashtags such as “suicide” are banned on some of these websites, youth create secret words or phrases to hide their posts—for example, using “sue” or “secretsociety123” for “suicide”. Many of these social media networks try to remain aware of these code words and prevent people from viewing the pages until they have seen a warning or message. For example, I went to Tumblr to search “sue”. Before the website would allow me to view related posts, a page came up with the message “Everything ok? If you or someone you know are experiencing any type of crisis, please know there are people who care about you and are here to help. Consider chatting confidentially with a volunteer trained in crisis intervention at, or anonymously with a trained active listener from 7 Cups of Tea. It might also be nice to fill your dash with inspirational and supportive posts from TWLOHA, Half of Us, the Lifeline, and Love Is Respect.” Then I had the option to go back or to view the search results. Some people on social media networks are attempting to rebrand hashtags such as these by tagging positive, inspirational, or supportive posts with them.

Individuals can help prevent cutting and suicide by knowing the warning signs, talking to the person about the concern, directly asking them if they are cutting or considering suicide, and telling a responsible party—whether a parent, healthcare professional, or other trusted adult. Society, as well, needs to be making an attempt to stop suicide and cutting among youth. We can do this by promoting awareness of the warning signs and ways to prevent it, de-stigmatizing mental health, and attempting to prevent the glorification of suicide, be it by a person with terminal illness or by a rich and famous individual.

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