The National Suicide Prevention Conference was held in Hobart in July 2014. A major focus of the conference was the role social media can play in preventing suicides among teenagers.
The Mindframe website explains that the number of youth suicides in Australia has decreased in recent years, but the number is still high. In 1997, 122 males aged 15 to 19 took their own life, with the number of females within the same age group being 33. In 2015, 89 males and 56 females in the same age group took their own life. In the 20 to 24 age group, 295 males and 60 females took their own life in 1997. In 2015, 192 males in the same age group took their own life, and 54 females took their own life as well.
So does social media have a role to play in preventing suicides among young people?
Dr. Katrina Clifford, a UTas journalism, media and communications lecturer, believes so.
“Social media platforms enable young people to access information, support, and counselling and share their experiences in a flexible, timely, readily accessible, and relatively low-cost manner,” she explains. “The positive effects of social media engagement in the prevention of youth suicide far outweigh the negative ones.
Jane Shearing, a youth worker at Elizabeth College, thinks that it’s a more complex topic.
“Social media, I think, plays a small part in preventing suicides,” she explains, “but sometimes it goes too far and doesn’t allow some individuals to build up resilience. But if social media can allow people to be connected, that’s good. If somebody is talking and feeling connected, then there’s less likelihood of them taking their own life.”
Bianca Thompson (not her real name), a young adult who suffers from depression, believes there needs to be tighter laws on social media in order for it to play a part in preventing young people from taking their own life.
“Even with cyberbullying, a lot of it is dismissed on Facebook, even if it is reported,” she says. “I think that needs to be fixed.”
It’s perhaps impossible to immediately solve the problems social media has, such as cyberbullying. Despite this, social media can be used to bring people together and get them talking straight away, and this fact needs to be spread and promoted. That way, the number of young people who take their own lives will hopefully decrease.
If this article brings up any issues for you, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit lifeline.org.au for crisis support.
For immediate assistance please call 000.