Experts ask if the increase in suicides in young people has to do with the use of new technologies.
The recent suicide of Ana Lucía Fuentes, a student at the Universidad de los Andes, shocked the country this week. On Sunday, November 26, the young woman was found dead in her apartment studio in the Santa Bárbara neighborhood of Bogotá. The news ran through the national media not only because it was the daughter of the Treasury Secretary of Valledupar, Eudes Fuentes Mejía, but because according to the first hypothesis, the dramatic decision would have had to do with a video posted on social networks. In this, the young man with whom apparently maintained a relationship appeared kissing another woman.
Although this is just a hypothesis, the media interest that has awakened the case coincides with a current debate in the world: how much social networks are affecting the mental health of the new generations.
A study published recently by experts from the San Diego State University, United States, warns about the issue. Jean Twenge, researcher and author of the report, says that the amount of time young people spend in front of a screen is closely related to the increase in depression and the development of suicidal behaviors and thoughts of adolescents. That is why she says that this “is not a good formula to promote good mental health”.
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To support her theory, the psychologist crossed the suicide figures in the United States with more than 500 anonymous surveys conducted on young people since 1991 by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). He found that the only drastic change that adolescents had between 2010 and 2015 – the period in which suicides increased in that country – was the amount of time they spent in front of the screens.
While 48 percent of teens who claimed to be more than 5 hours a day on computers, tablets or phones confessed feeling more depressed and have some link to suicide, 28 percent of those who spent less than an hour on the Internet They showed better mental health.
The figures in Colombia are also worrying. The latest Forensis report from the Institute of Forensic Medicine shows that the number of suicides between 2016 and 2017 has increased significantly. While for October of last year 1,662 people had taken their lives in the country, in the same period of this year the institution had already registered 1,944 cases.
Of those deaths, 288 correspond to young people from 20 to 24 years old; 85, to children from 10 to 14 years old; and 103, to adolescents between 15 and 18 years old. In total, until October of this year, there have already been 28 cases of adolescent suicides more than the previous one. A figure that goes hand in hand with the concern of Carlos Valdés, director of the Institute of Legal Medicine, who confirmed that the problem of suicide has been growing at around 1.4 percent per year.
It should be noted that social networks have an indirect impact on emotional well-being. As explained by Catherine Salamanca, a psychologist and master in Mental Health at the León University of Barcelona, suicide “exists before social networks and will continue to exist afterwards”. The relationship between one and the other is due to the fact that a person with a genetic predisposition is more at risk of potentiating their mental disorders when they misuse technology.
Networks increase the odds in several ways. According to Salamanca, loneliness, bullying and pressure to appear are some forms. “In networks there is a tendency to project perfect lives.” And indeed, a month ago the renowned Spanish influence artist Celia Fuentes took her own life, apparently, given the pressure she felt to maintain a standard of that level.
Salamanca also points out that adolescence is a time of high vulnerability because “there is a great predisposition to compare ourselves with others. Insecurity makes us believe that the person we see on the screen is happier than us. That increases the frustration and everything we see, even if it’s positive, we associate it with our own sadness. “
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A study by the University of Copenhagen supports this theory. After examining the habits of using Facebook in 1,095 people, the experts found that those who continued to visit this network had a higher level of envy and exhibited signs of depression, in contrast to those who did not. Hence, talk of the envy of Facebook to describe that feeling of sadness and melancholy that people feel when observing their friends on trips or parties while they work. “We are more connected than ever, but is this connection doing well to people?” Asks Morten Tromholt, author of the report. “The answer is no. In fact, the frequent use of Facebook is affecting our well-being in many dimensions, “adds the researcher.
Valdés assures that the increase of suicide in the youngest has to do with the little control that the parents exert over the access to the technology of their children. Although it is common for children to play with tablets, computers and smartphones at 2 years of age, when they begin to make indiscriminate use of them, the risk of having problems increases. “Children do not understand the real impact of what they share or the content they read. All for a lack of education and prevention that we should be aware of, “he says.
Experts are also concerned that the more time young people spend on these devices, the less social skills they develop. “They have terrible interpersonal communication in their work, social and family environment. And this has made every day more difficult to establish emotional bonds with adolescents, “says Valdés. Most of them interact in virtual spaces such as Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat. There they put all their expectations and when they can not meet them, they become frustrated. At the same time, by maintaining most of their relationships in a virtual way, there is a generalized emptiness and melancholy.
The solution is not to leave technology aside, but to educate young people to make assertive decisions about the content they consult. “Ideally, they should be aware of the moment in which Facebook stops being positive and becomes a space in which it increases their dissatisfaction, so that they put up a barrier and protect themselves,” explains Salamanca.
Another factor of protection is to cultivate a healthy self-esteem in children. According to the psychologist Walter Riso, author of the book “Fall in love with yourself”, parents often let their children “stick with a stick”, when in reality they must teach them to congratulate themselves and understand that mistakes are part of life.
The challenge is to make technological advances easier for young people, but without interrupting it. Interestingly, a few days ago, and faced with the obvious problem, Facebook announced that it will apply an early warning system to prevent suicides in the social network. The tool, which will operate with artificial intelligence, aims to recognize suicidal patterns in publications and videos, to later dissuade young people from committing the act. It is a step because, as Salamanca says, these networks are invasive, immediate, addictive and absorbing, and that cocktail can potentiate the feelings of sadness, disappointment or loneliness of young people. “That’s why it’s important that parents do not underestimate their influence.”