Grant LaflecheThe Standard
Date Published: Tuesday, April 3, 2012
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ST. CATHARINES - The suicide rate among young girls has risen over the last few decades, in part, say mental-health experts, because of the growth of online social media.
A study published this week in the Canadian Medical Association Journal showed that the rate of suicide for girls aged 15 to 19 rose from 3.7 per 100,000 girls in 1980 to 6.2 per 100,000 in 2008.
The rate for boys in the same age bracket was higher overall, but declined over the same period from 19 per 100,000 to 12.1.
Local mental-health experts say the changes in culture, particularly the advent of social media, have contributed to the rise.
“In 1980, if you were bullied at school, it ended at 3 p.m. when you went home,” said Jill Dennison of the local chapter of the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario. “Now it follows you home on Facebook and other social media.”
Researchers from the Public Health Agency of Canada examined mortality data from Statistics Canada from 1980 to 2008 for Canadians aged 10 to 19 and found that although the suicide rate decreased an average of 1% each year, the rate varied by age and sex.
While suicide rates for boys in both the 10 to 14 and 15 to 19 age bracket declined over that period, suicide rates for girls in both age groups went up.
Suffocation has become the leading method of suicide among children and adolescents of both sexes. However, the study authors note that an increase in the popularity of the choking game, in which children and teens aim to induce a euphoric effect by temporarily depriving their brains of oxygen, may account for some deaths from suffocation being misclassified as suicides. The study further said the impact of these deaths on suicide rates cannot be clearly determined.
“The prevalence and influence of the Internet and social media in the lives of young Canadians cannot be discounted in this discussion and warrants further research to understand its risks related to suicide,” the study’s authors conclude. “The term ‘cybersuicide’ has evolved to describe the numerous websites, chat rooms and blogs promoting suicide and suicidal ideation. Such sites are obviously troubling; yet, paradoxically, the Internet and social media also hold potential benefits for the prevention of suicide.”
Dennison said social media cuts both ways. While there are websites that are not helpful, there are many that are, such as Kids Help Phone.
“So what we need to do is make sure we are directing young people to the sites that will help them,” she said.
There is no local data to show if the national trend is reflected in Niagara. However, Bill Helmeczi, director of mental-health services for Pathstone Mental Health, said the numbers did not surprise him.
He said the referral of girls to the children’s mental-health organization has risen sharply over the last eight years.
Not all the cases referred to Pathstone are connected to suicide or related issues like depression, he said, but he noted that the ratio of referrals eight years ago was 4 to 1 in favour of boys. “Now it is closer to 2.65 to 1 and by the time we get to the middle teens, it is almost equal,” Helmeczi said.
Like Dennison, Helmeczi said social-media culture that allows for 24/7 interaction contributes to changes.
He also said boys still tend to be more physical, engaging in fist fights or physically bullying someone. Girls take a more psychological approach.
“Girls are more likely (to bully someone over social media) than boys,” he said. “Girls’ use of social media is higher than it is for boys.”
Suicide prevention resources:
Niagara emergency services such as police, fire, ambulance: 911
Information Niagara: www.informationniagara.com211
Calling 211 will connect the caller with a host of government services.
Distress Centre Niagara: www.distresscentreniagara.com
St. Catharines/Niagara Falls: 905- 688-3711
Port Colborne/Welland: 905-734- 1212
Beamsville/Grimsby: 905-563- 6674
Fort Erie: 905-382-0689
The distress centre is a 24-hour hotline for people who are depressed, distressed or in crisis. Kids Help Phone: www.kidshelpphone.ca
Kids Help Phone is a 24-hour crisis hotline and website to connect young people to a counsellor (1-800-668-6868).
Pathstone Crisis Services/Crisis Ourtreach and Support Team: www.pathstonementalhealth.ca,1-800-263-4944
Mobile crisis intervention service providing immediate telephone counselling and, if necessary, on-site crisis intervention.
Canadian Mental Health Association: www.cmhaniagara.ca, 905-641-5222
A national organization, with local resources, to assist those dealing with mental-health issues. Niagara Health System, community crisis care: 905-378-4647
A crisis program for individuals who are experiencing a psychiatric crisis.
Victim Services Niagara: 905-688-4111, ext. 5084
(Please note that CMHO staff does not reply to comments that are posted on news stories.)