Earlier this year, the Journal of Abnormal Psychology published a disturbing study showing that depression and suicide attempts have markedly increased among American youth in recent years.
The causes for this increase are disputed. The study points to suicide contagion, “the phenomenon by which exposure to one suicide death can trigger suicidal behavior in others.” Some believe that the heavy use of social media and digital technology may negatively impact the mental health of young people. Entertainment may also play a role; another recent study suggests that the controversial Netflix show entitled “13 Reasons Why,” which centers on the suicide of a teenaged girl, may be connected to a spike in youth suicide. Still another study, while not directly focused on youth, concluded that the legalization of physician-assisted suicide leads to increases in non-assisted suicides.
What can be done about the increase in youth suicide in the United States? At New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, we believe that keeping physician-assisted suicide illegal is an important first step. Sociologists Seth Abrutyn and Anna Mueller have some other suggestions, including “‘telling the story about kids who have actually pulled through these struggles, and [emphasizing that] there are ways to get help,’ rather than only memorializing or glamorizing those who have died by suicide.” Also, “schools and community figures should give clear and non-inflammatory information about suicide” and “encourage those who are struggling to seek help.”