Global EditionASIA 中文双语Français
Home / Opinion / Youth Talks

Social media fueling suicide epidemic in US

By Haider Rifaat | | Updated: 2024-06-21 09:50
Share - WeChat
The US Capitol building is seen in Washington, DC, on Nov 8,2022. [Photo/Xinhua]


Social media use has become increasingly common world over and is considered a lifestyle that may be impossible to outgrow. In times of disinformation, deep fakes and artificial intelligence that have further blurred the lines between reality and fiction, social media has emerged as a powerful, manipulative tool that has amplified depression and anxiety disorders amongst the American youth.

Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt's best-selling book The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood Is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness outlines how social media and smartphone usage caused depression to grow by 106 percent while anxiety disorders increased by 134 percent among undergraduate students in the US between 2010 to 2020. Emergency visits for self-harm increased by 188 percent and suicide rates rose by 167 percent among girls aged 10 to 14 years.

Suicide is considered the second most common cause of death amongst the American youth, and there is good reason to believe that social media is a driving factor that is triggering depression and deaths by suicide. 

Youngsters have become increasingly connected across digital spaces, which has hampered their confidence to meet new people in-person and interact with those they already know.

There is strong evidence linking social media use to suicide. Owing to social media platforms, suicide rates increased by 60 percent among children and adults between the ages of 10-24 from 2007 to 2018. Two incidents further link social media to suicide: 16-year-old Chase Nasca took his life after watching dozens of self-harm videos that a social media platform algorithm promoted to him. According to Bloomberg, a few examples of self-harm videos shared on the social media platform included content that idolized suicide. One video emphasized, "Take the pain away. Death is a gift," while a female responded indifferently, saying "Cool" to a man who remarked in another video, "I'm going to put a shotgun in my mouth and blow the brains out the back of my head." Normalizing suicide through social media is a serious concern, and should remind us of Conrod Roy, who took his life after his girlfriend encouraged him over a series of texts to commit suicide.

Another incident involved Gavid Guffey, a 17-year-old who died by suicide after falling victim to a sexual extortion scam on Instagram. Scammers reached out to Guffey via the app and threatened to leak his private images if he failed to send money. Guffey ultimately killed himself. The FBI has warned that sexual extortion largely targets minors, especially boys, and is causing an uptick in suicide rates in the US.

Normalizing suicide on major digital platforms is a crime of its own, and people running these social media businesses should be sued and taken to court. While Instagram is taking measures to blur explicit photos in direct messages to protect the identity of users and prevent future sextortion, there are other means for scammers to lure teenagers—something that is beyond Instagram's control. External apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook messenger can be used for future communication if Instagram users decide to share their personal information with strangers. It boils down to how users choose to interact with strangers on the app. However, their actions should not make social media companies complacent in managing self-harm content and addressing illicit activities.

The algorithms being used by these social media organizations to continue user engagement is a crime against humanity. These algorithms are feeding into the insecurities of youngsters in the form of low self-esteem, self-harm and depression. Depression and anxiety can further trigger suicidal ideation, leading to deaths. Social media companies should seriously consider banning any account that creates and/or promotes violence, hate speech and self-harm. Nobody should be blamed for depression or suicide except the social media app they are using.

More importantly, social media giants should be held accountable for establishing money-making algorithms that are getting them more user engagement and revenue at the expense of individual well-being. Meta, for instance, will reportedly receive $155.6 billion in ad revenue this year. If these companies remain complacent and driven by profits, depression and anxiety will continue to skyrocket across digital spaces in the future. The US Congress should hold social media companies accountable for any reported death by suicide that occurs in the country because of social media apps. Recently, Vivek Murthy, US Surgeon General, recommended to the Congress that social media platforms should carry warning labels, advising youngsters about the mental health hazards of using digital apps. This is an important step to curb suicidal ideation facing the American youth because of social media.

Haider Rifaat is a PhD student of Political Science at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, United States. The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

If you have a specific expertise, or would like to share your thought about our stories, then send us your writings at, and

Most Viewed in 24 Hours
Copyright 1995 - . All rights reserved. The content (including but not limited to text, photo, multimedia information, etc) published in this site belongs to China Daily Information Co (CDIC). Without written authorization from CDIC, such content shall not be republished or used in any form. Note: Browsers with 1024*768 or higher resolution are suggested for this site.
License for publishing multimedia online 0108263

Registration Number: 130349