VALPARAISO | Social media plays a significant role in the incidence of teen suicide, a social worker said Tuesday at a Family & Youth Services Bureau workshop.
Kelly Bishop Bohren, a social worker and home school adviser for Fegely Middle School in Portage, presented “Youth Suicide — Prevention and Education” to parents and mental health professionals.
“We need to recognize the role of social media,” she said. “It exposes them to more bullying and more self-harming and suicidal behaviors, which are glorified.”
Bohren said social media promotes a “contagion and cluster effect,” where teens learn of other teens committing suicide and decide to do it themselves.
“I can't stress enough how real this is,” she said. “If there is a suicide on the radar, the suicide ideation is up.”
She said the goal of the workshop is to open the dialogue about youth suicide and help remove the stigma attached to it. She also wants to share best practices in schools for suicide prevention.
Bohren said every day in the United States, 14 people between the ages of 15 and 24 commit suicide. About 90 percent of those who kill themselves suffer from a mental disorder such as depression, bipolar, anxiety, substance abuse, conduct, eating or schizophrenia.
Most of the teens who attempt suicide don't want to die, but rather alleviate pain, Bohren said.
Risk factors include family abuse, bullying, being gay or lesbian, exposure to other suicides, trouble with the law, drug use and access to firearms, she said.
While risk factors are important, suicide can strike any family and no family is immune, Bohren said.
About 80 percent of teens who attempt suicide give verbal or non-verbal warnings.
“So we really need to take everything they say seriously,” Bohren said. “Kids often will say, 'I was just joking.' But don't ever buy that.”
Bohren offered several suggestions for what parents can do if a teen seems suicidal. These include listening, getting professional help, reassuring the teen that they won't feel like this forever and removing firearms, knives and drugs from the home.