In two nationally representative surveys of U.S. adolescents in grades 8 through 12 (N = 506,820) and national statistics on suicide deaths for those ages 13 to 18, adolescents’ depressive symptoms, suicide-related outcomes, and suicide rates increased between 2010 and 2015, especially among females. Adolescents who spent more time on new media (including social media and electronic devices such as smartphones) were more likely to report mental health issues, and adolescents who spent more time on nonscreen activities (in-person social interaction, sports/exercise, homework, print media, and attending religious services) were less likely.
Since 2010, iGen adolescents have spent more time on new media screen activities and less time on nonscreen activities, which may account for the increases in depression and suicide. In-person social interaction (also known as face-to-face communication) provides more emotional closeness than electronic communication (Sherman, Minas, & Greenfield, 2013) and, at least in some studies, is more protective against loneliness (Kross et al., 2013; cf. Deters & Mehl, 2013). Some research suggests that electronic communication, particularly social media, may even increase feelings of loneliness (Song et al., 2014), and time spent on electronic communication has increased considerably since the smartphone (a mobile phone with Internet access) was introduced in 2007 and gained market saturation around 2012 (Smith, 2017).
It is worth remembering that humans’ neural architecture evolved under conditions of close, mostly continuous face-to-face contact with others (including nonvisual and nonauditory contact; i.e., touch, olfaction; Baumeister & Leary, 1995; Lieberman, 2013) and that a decrease in or removal of a system’s key inputs may risk destabilization of the system (e.g., Badcock, Davey, Whittle, Allen, & Friston, 2017).
These changes in social interaction are especially relevant for suicide and suicide-related outcomes, as posited by the interpersonal theory of suicide. The interpersonal theory of suicide (Joiner, 2005; Van Orden et al., 2010) proposes that the desire for suicide results from the combination of two interpersonal risk factors: reduced belongingness (i.e., social disconnection/alienation, loneliness) and perceived burdensomeness (i.e., feeling as though one is a burden on others).
IINII uses an innovative Design Thinking process to help your students and staff members gain an understanding about one’s sense of self and what they deeply value while developing a shared understanding about what bullying looks and sounds like. Having an understanding of one’s values matters because research has shown it is linked to better well-being, less stress and delinquency, and increased confidence in one’s ability to succeed. Understanding students’ values can be developed with culturally responsive practices that reflect a student’s identity and experience.
The IINII bullying prevention model creates a vibrant face-to-face interaction that encourages relationship building. Adults can also be trained in antibullying strategies and techniques to build an inclusive climate. Particularly helpful is focusing efforts on cultural competence and relevance and providing opportunities for students to practice bridging differences between diverse identities in a safe environment.