October 21, 2016

The topic and issue of suicide has been rapidly increasing over the past few years throughout the U.S. From 1999 until 2010 the suicide rate among Americans ages 35 to 64 increased nearly 30 percent, and is currently the 10th leading cause of death in the nation. Each year over 42,000 Americans die by suicide, and for every death there are another 25 attempts.

In Utah, the suicide rate has been consistently higher than the national rate. The rate has nearly tripled since 2007 and is now the leading cause of death among 10-17-year-olds in Utah.

But, behind these statistics and numbers are real people. Somebody's brother, sister, daughter, or son. These are individuals who were struggling and never given the chance to help themselves through whatever dark demons they were facing.

Professionals have been looking into the suicide epidemic and have begun trying to make connections to explain why the rates are exponentially increasing. Some attribute it to a culture that has created a stigma around talk of suicide and mental health. Others claim the rapid rise and use of social media has increased the amount of social pressure and bullying. There is fair evidence that claims it could be  a combination of both.

In response to this problem, Instagram announced on Monday, October 17th, that they have recently introduced suicide prevention tools to their social media app. With these tools, users will now be able to report troubling posts and support options will pop up for specific hashtag searches. Here's how it works: If a friend on Instagram is having a hard time or is showing signs of hurting themselves , Instagram can help anonymously intervene with its new support options. If a user reports a post that is worrying them, that friend will receive a message saying "someone saw one of your posts and thinks you might be going through a difficult time. If you'd like support, we'd like to help." They will then get the option of talking to a friend, contact a helpline or receive tips and support.

In an interview for Seventeen magazine Instagram COO Marne Levine said, "We understand friends and family often want to offer support but don't know how to best reach out. These tools are designed to let you know that you are surrounded by a community that cares about you, at a moment when you might most need that reminder."

Earlier this year, Facebook also joined in the fight against suicide providing tools for concerned friends to flag a post for quick review and directly message that friend. Facebook reviews the post and sends a message to the user offering help, a hotline number, and online tips.

"Social media makes it easier than ever to connect and share with the people you care about," said Joe Sullivan, chief security officer of Facebook. "Knowing effective ways to seek input and offer support to your friends and families about difficult topics is an important part of building a safe online community."

To be sure that the tools on Instagram were crafted using the right language, they partnered with individuals who have experienced eating disorders and self-harm issues, and worked with The National Eating Disorders Association and The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. 

There are still experts who say that social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter still cause intense social pressures that make teens feel restless, sleepless, anxious, and depressed. Michele Hamm, a researcher in pediatrics at the University of Alberta, found that social media use is tightly connected to teen depression rates. "There were consistent associations between exposure to cyberbullying and increased likelihood of depression."

Hamm insists that there is more social media websites can do to stop the issue of cyberbullying and harassment happening on their sites.

For those who are immediately struggling with thoughts of suicide please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website or call 1-800-273-8255.

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