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Teenage suicide is always a tragic event – but a new disturbing trend has emerged. Teens and young people have been killing themselves or making suicide attempts and live-streaming the event via social media. Not only are these acts horrifying, but they may be a trigger to others.
Psychiatrist Dr. Domenick Sportelli joins The Doctors to discuss the phenomenon and how to prevent it.
“The fact that live-stream suicides are becoming, in a way, a new norm – very disturbing,” says ER Physician Dr. Travis Stork.
Dr. Sportelli works in the psychiatric ER, and he agrees. “We are absolutely seeing an increase in how these kids are posting their suicides on social media. People will take pictures of the pills they’re about to take, people will take pictures of cutting that they’re doing. Social media is how kids communicate, and when they’re hurting and they have a cry for help, this is what they do.”
Online suicides are especially harmful because they can inspire other depressed teens to attempt suicide. ”It normalizes it,” says Ob/Gyn Dr. Nita Landry.
Dr. Sportelli says she’s right – “cluster suicides” are a real phenomenon. “From the age of 15 to 19, if someone close to you commits suicide, you have a two to four times more likely chance in the near future to commit suicide.”
Dr. Stork points out that a “cry for help” can be beneficial. It’s a chance for people to get help. But live-streaming the actual act of suicide? “That idea to me is so disturbing, that someone is going to turn on the camera and announce ‘I’m going to kill myself,’” says Dr. Stork. “What can we do so that this doesn’t happen anymore?”
Fortunately, most social-media platforms now allow users to report alarming posts – ones containing self-harm, threats of suicide, or users talking about hurting themselves or others. Instagram, Facebook, and others will alert the authorities if they review the post and deem it to be a danger.
Urologist Dr. Jennifer Berman wonders why a suicidal person would want to end their life in such a public way. Dr. Sportelli explains that it can be a cry for help, an exhibitionistic way to let the world know how bad the pain is, or even an accusation blaming others -- “see what you’ve done!”
The bottom line is that anyone displaying suicidal tendencies, online or off, needs immediate help. “It’s truly an emergency,” Dr. Landry. “If you believe someone is really suicidal, take them to the emergency room!”
“If someone had chest pain, you’d take them to the emergency room,” Dr. Sportelli points out. ERs are staffed with psychiatric emergency personnel – it’s the best place to get immediate help in a crisis. Your intervention can save a life!
For more information and resources on suicide prevention, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at (800) 273-TALK, or visit The Suicide Prevention Resource Center website.