Teen Suicide and the Risk for Contagion

Teen suicideTeen suicide is said to be a phenomenon of clustering and contagion, with social media exacerbating this trend today. The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) reports that 15 percent of high school students have contemplated suicide, and 7 percent have actually attempted it. Unfortunately, the aftereffects of a single suicide can ripple through schools, peer groups and the community, resulting in an increase in attempted and successful subsequent suicides. Fortunately, this phenomenon is highly preventable.

The Contagion Phenomenon Related to Teenage Suicide

NASP reports that a single adolescent suicide often acts as a catalyst for developing a suicide cluster, an increased number of incidents that occur within a confined geographic boundary within a specific period of time. Psychologists theorize that seeing the suicide of another teen covered on social media may be taken by young people as permission to take similar action.

Causes of Adolescent and Teen Suicide Clusters

The prevalence of social media use by adolescents and teens means that news spreads around the world in minutes or even seconds. Whereas clusters used to be contained to small geographic areas, the phenomenon now transcends those limited physical boundaries. The social and emotional difficulties inherent in the lives of young people can be challenging, although typically not enough to incite desperate acts. However, the young brain is not yet developed sufficiently to overcome impulsive behaviors, so when an external stimulus such as a classmate’s suicide is introduced, it could be too much for them to handle. Young people who may have witnessed a suicide are at increased risk of contagion, as are those who were close to or had something specific in common with the victim, such as playing the same sport.

Keys to Suicide Prevention

As much as social media can worsen a situation, it can help just as effectively. Experts say that the online community can act as a neighborhood watch group of sorts, alerting adults and the proper authorities if someone posts thoughts or intentions to harm themselves. It can also act as a medium to provide encouragement and help to young people who may be considering an act of desperation. Parents, teachers and other community members must also take swift action to reach out to young people upon learning of a child’s suicide. Psychologists say that the most effective counter measure is to simply get kids talking, even if they are unwilling to talk about their feelings or the incident itself. Personal attention is the key to preventing contagion. Parents and caregivers are also advised to watch for any changes in their children’s habits or behavior patterns. Young people contemplating suicide may complain of physical pain, display aggressive behaviors, stop eating or sleeping or begin using or abusing drugs or alcohol.

If you believe your daughter or another young woman in your care is at risk for committing suicide or other self-harm, seek professional intervention immediately. Havenwood Academy offers experiential treatment programs for a variety of mental and emotional conditions. Contact them today to discuss their residential intervention programs specifically designed to address teen suicide and self-harm.


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