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Suicide Contagion and Social Media

October 9, 2019

This essay from The Jed Foundation is included in Social Media, Gaming and Mental Health, our 2019 Children’s Mental Health Report.

If your child is persistently upset during or after using social media, it is important to take a closer look. This is particularly true if you also notice significant or persistent changes in moods or behaviors. This can mark the difference between stress, which is normal, and distress, which should be of concern.

In general, both stress and distress are perceived as suffering and both can feel seriously burdensome — at least for a while. Stress, however, typically serves to motivate action in service of resolution, whereas distress feels chronic and unresolvable. Here are a few signs of emotional distress that you might notice:

  • Comments, posts or hashtags that convey hopelessness, isolation or feeling like a burden
  • Persistent irritability
  • Engaging in impulsive behaviors like reckless driving or elevated substance use
  • Trouble sleeping or excessive sleeping
  • Withdrawal from daily or regular life (especially favorite activities or people)
  • Changes in school performance

If you’re concerned, how do you bring it up? It is always good to ask what is going on. Sometimes teens are relieved to share. But be prepared to be stonewalled. This may not have anything to do with you; for many teens there is just something about telling a parent that makes whatever it is feel too real.

Finally, comments about ending one’s life — even if said sarcastically or as a joke — should be taken very seriously. If a teen is having thoughts of ending his/her life, you might notice:

  • Comments like “I don’t want to be here anymore” or “It’d be better if I was gone”
  • Saying goodbyes or giving personal possessions away
  • Showing intense and urgent negative emotions such as shame, guilt or feeling trapped

If you notice any of these kinds of posts or communications, seek professional help through local resources (primary care clinician, local mental health resources, 911) or through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or or chat to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline..

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