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Demian Rusakov
Demian Rusakov

Riley Winters Teens


Young people aren't the only ones facing a suicide problem; the national suicide rate across all demographics is at an almost 30-year high. But more than three times as many teens are killing themselves now than in the 1950s. Most of these suicides aren't copycats, but some areas across the country are suffering from the sort of contagion that has stricken Colorado Springs; the CDC investigated cases in Fairfax County, Virginia, in 2014 and Palo Alto, California, in 2016. Other clusters have likely gone undetected because it's often so difficult to make the connections between victims.




riley winters teens


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Suicide prevention advocates tend to blame television and newspaper coverage for inspiring copycats, but for teens, social media are a growing problem. Instagram pages for kids who kill themselves sometimes contain hundreds of comments. Many are about how beautiful or handsome the deceased were, how they can finally rest in peace and how there should be a party for them in heaven. Dr. Christine Moutier, chief medical officer at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, says the message seems to be that if you kill yourself, you'll not only end your suffering but also become the most popular kid in school. Teens sometimes have more than 1,000 Instagram followers, so kids far beyond one school or community can see digital shrines to dead friends. Moutier says those posts can seem as if they're romanticizing death.


Scholars are struggling to keep up with the evolving technology, and they say there's still a paucity of research on how suicidal thoughts spread through social media. "It makes these deaths no longer isolated," says Cerel, and kids "are exposed and perhaps profoundly affected by someone they might have never even met in person." Analysts say clusters could become harder to spot, because they typically occur in a specific area, but social networks for teens now spread far beyond a school, a neighborhood, even a city.


It's hard to identify "patient zero" in the Colorado Springs suicide outbreak because kids today are so interconnected, and the families involved have kept many details private. Researchers also know that they can't limit their search to one group; the first suicide at one school may have been inspired by the death of a student at another. Other factors muddling the search: The coroner's office doesn't always track where the deceased went to school, and districts are hesitant to say how many teens they've lost to suicide, citing student privacy laws and fear of copycats. 041b061a72


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