The Impact of the Digital Age on Suicide Prevention

According to a 2018 report, the average American now spends nearly 24 hours a week online, which is not very surprising considering we are almost always in reach of a computer, phone, or tablet. Immediate access to the internet has brought both positive and negative impacts. As a clinician, for example, I’ve observed individuals, especially those in younger populations, become more susceptible to comparing their lives to the “highlight reels” of other individuals, often diminishing their self-esteem in the process. Similarly, access to social media has complicated society’s effort to root out and end bullying. Now, our children will often suffer bullying in the shadows and privacy of online messaging. And we know that extended time spent on social media can be linked to the increased number of suicide risk factors an individual may experience including isolation and lack of true social support, etc.

Media plays a growing role in this, especially as media agencies are now sharing their messages across all digital platforms. The way in which the media portrays individuals struggling with mental health issues matters. The media’s coverage of suicidal behaviors can influence people at risk in a negative manner by inadvertently contributing to possible copycat behavior. On the other end of the spectrum, it can assist in breaking stigmas and encouraging individuals and loved ones to get the help they need. We’ve seen increased conversations about this impact with the release of movies and television shows, including Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why which sparked discussion throughout the mental health industry. 

The digital space has also had a positive impact on the mental health space. We have learned that people sometimes feel inclined to share their suicidal risk behaviors online, in chat rooms and on social media, where they can find support. Organizations such as the Suicide Prevention Lifeline have developed chat features on their websites to offer an additional way for individuals suffering with suicidal behaviors to contact them 24 hours a day. 

We’ve also seen an increase in telemental health options, which have been a game-changer in terms of accessibility to mental health care. We’ve seen telemental healthcare options become very successful in a few key areas including rural communities who have fewer options in terms of mental healthcare and business professionals with demanding careers. There are many added benefits to this style of mental health care. Those using telemental care are able to access help anywhere at any time and incur lower costs. 

There are many benefits to the addition of digital technology in the health care field, with the biggest being the increased accessibility to various types of care. Being able to offer patients evidence-based care and support when and where they want it is vital. We must continue to embrace these digital technology solutions moving forward, as these developments are helping to reduce stigma and remove barriers to care. 

It is also important that everyone, not just healthcare providers, understand symptoms and treatments of mental illness. By being aware, individuals can play a crucial role in identifying when someone else is showing signs and may be asking for help. If you’re unsure of what these signs are, you can find trusted resources online.

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