Study links phones to increase in teen suicides

A research study published in November 2017 in “Clinical Psychological Science” indicated that the combination of “smartphones” and social media could be linked to the increase in depression and suicide among teenagers in the United States.

The researchers noted a sudden increase in teen depression, suicide risk factors and suicide rates starting in 2012.

Teenagers who spend five or more hours a day on a smartphone are 71 percent more likely to have risk factors for suicide, the study found.

In a December 2017 interview on National Public Radio about the study, author Dr. Jean Twenge of San Diego State University said adults and teens should limit their time on social media on their phones to no more than two hours a day.

“I think a great rule for both teens and adults is to try to keep your use at two hours a day or less. And then you put that phone down, and you spend the rest of your time on things that are better for mental health and happiness, like sleeping, seeing friends and family face to face, getting out and exercising.

These are all things that are linked to better mental health. So if you use the phone to facilitate those things rather than stand in their way, that’s a good way to go,” she stated in the interview.

The study was based on survey questionnaires from more than 500,000 teenagers in the United States and statistics kept by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The same nationally representative anonymous surveys have been conducted since 1991.

The study found spending more time on social media is linked to unhappiness and depression. Researchers also found that spending more time engaging in in-person social interaction, exercise and sports decreased depression.

The researchers found: “In two nationally representative surveys of U.S. adolescents in grades 8 through 12 and national statistics on suicide deaths for those ages 13 to 18, adolescents’ depressive symptoms, suicide-related outcomes, and suicide rates increased between 2010 and 2015, especially among females. Adolescents who spent more time on new media (including social media and electronic devices such as smartphones) were more likely to report mental health issues, and adolescents who spent more time on nonscreen activities (in-person social interaction, sports/exercise, homework, print media, and attending religious services) were less likely. Since 2010, iGen adolescents have spent more time on new media screen activities and less time on nonscreen activities, which may account for the increases in depression and suicide. In contrast, cyclical economic factors such as unemployment and the Dow Jones Index were not linked to depressive symptoms or suicide rates when matched by year.”

CDC data shows that suicide rates among teens have risen sharply since 2010.

While teenage boys are at higher risk of suicide than girls, the suicide rate among girls is rising more sharply.

The suicide rate for males ages 15-19 increased by 30 percent from 10.8 per 100,000 population in 2007 compared with 14.2 in 2015, according to the CDC. The suicide rate for females age 15-10 more than doubled, from 2.4 per 100,000 population in 2007 to 5.1 in 2015.

Publisher/Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at

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