I can only imagine how parents feel when their kid commits suicide. It must be a horrible feeling that nobody should ever experience in their lives. Yet, in the United States alone, there is a suicide every 12 minutes. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, there are 121 suicides per day making suicide the second largest cause of death among people ages 44 or younger. According to a recent study published at the Atlantic Magazine, the suicide rates have doubled since 2007 and suicide among girls ages 15-19 increased by 40%. What is going on?
Nobody really knows as of yet because suicide is such a complex condition to study which often occurs after a number of things that could go wrong go wrong including lack of belonging to a caring church, finances, thinking that they are a burden to others, hopelessness and many other factors. I can’t comment on what makes good people take their own lives because I am not a psychologist. All that I can do is to speculate and provide potential insight based on what I know. Could it be that the rate of suicide is increasing at very high levels in America because of technology? Let me ask this question differently. Do you think that there is a positive correlation between smartphone communication and use and the increasing rate of suicide among teens in this country? Well, I think so! Let me explain.
Mediated communication, or the communication that uses information communication technology, is still communication. It isn’t categorized by communication scholars as face-to-face communication but it can be argued that it has the same qualities of traditional (face-to-face) communication at least from an operational standpoint. Communication works a little bit like this — Messages are sent from a sender to a receiver regardless if that message is sent through interpersonal means or via texting or a Facebook post. People tend to forget that just because technology has evolved, it doesn’t grant us to right to change years of solid communication theory and application tested and re-tested continuously by communication scholars. No matter which era we live in, people will feel goofy if the message has what communicators call “noise” or is decoded in a way that is detrimental to the receiver. Technology will never change the fact that we are humans and have feelings and these feelings play a role on how we act and react in life.
Let me be practical. When a girl in her teens decodes a message sent by someone, she will inevitably have her own perceptions about the message that she just received. If her “feelings” are good, she is likely to smile and feel great. If, however, her feelings aren’t good, problems are likely to start occurring. Problems are defined loosely in this case. If these “problems” occur frequently and daily, then one must wonder what will be the ramifications for such exposures. We are using smartphones an average of 6-8 hours a day. Statistically speaking, I would argue that the chance for “bad communication” to occur in a teens life is pretty high simply by association. Do you remember when you were a teenager and thought that if your boyfriend broke up with you it would be the end of the world? Well, technology makes these “feelings” a reality because our lives are now so public and visual. Look, there are people in my home country of Brazil who I haven’t communicated with interpersonally in years who knows more about my life than my dear 90 year old grandmother! Although the way communication occurs doesn’t change, the way we “experience” communication has changed dramatically.
The intersection between what is and what should be perceived by a teen on social media is what I think is causing this increase in suicide rates among them. About 75% of teens own a smartphone. They use these devices constantly everyday of the week. Communication is experienced differently but it has the same elements regardless of form. At 15, drama is high. When combined with other factors like loneliness, problems are more likely to occur. This is my take on it.