The recent suicides of Ritu Sachdeva and Hillary "Kate" Kuizon, both 17-year-old seniors at Plano East Senior High School, in Plano, Texas, as well as those of two students at a prestigious all-boy preparatory high school in Bronx, N.Y. underscore the disturbing increase in suicide amongst young people— up at least 13 percent from 2010.
The reasons for this increase will be the subject of research studies for years, but I have a theory, which comes from my work with patients in this age group.
For some time now, I have noted that young people— including adolescents, teenagers and those in their 20s— are disconnected from the reality of their own existences. Facebook, Twitter, Tinder and the like have made them think of themselves as mini-reality-TV versions of themselves. Too many of them see their lives as a series of flickering photos or quick videos. They need constant doses of admiration and constant confirmation of their tenuous existence, which come in the form of Facebook “likes” and Twitter “retweets.”
This substitution of media for real meaning has not only been shown to weaken their self-esteem and their ability to sustain themselves through adversity, but it can cheapen the value they assign to life in general— including their own lives. If all the world is a stage of pixels, and young people see themselves as their tweets and Snapchat photos, then taking a fist-full of pills could seem like no more than the equivalent of shutting down a Facebook account or turning off an iPhone.
Call it, “Suicide by Social Media.”
See, to the extent that one is never truly alive, one can entertain the notion of killing oneself, without the normal psychological hurdles. People do not long grieve the death of fictional characters in film or TV. And our young people are at risk of seeing themselves as no more solid or substantive.
This is one reason, by the way, that drugs like heroin are rampant. Heroin kills real feelings. And young people are, increasingly, strangers to dealing with real feelings. Heroin is just the powdered equivalent of text messaging, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and the rest of the technology drugs Americans— especially American teen— are mainlining every single day.
This is one reason why young people are increasingly fascinated with dramas about vampires and zombies. They know something about the walking dead.
Yes, they try to insulate themselves by having more and more and more sex, with more and more partners, but, ultimately, that doesn’t convince them they are more than their bodies. To fully want to live, to fully resist death, even amidst adversity, one must be convinced that one has a soul and a true destiny.
Facebook will never achieve that. Neither will Twitter. Or Snapchat. Or YouTube. Or any other sorry excuse for communication, connection, admiration, respect or love.
My work is restoring that sense of reality and soul and destiny to those who have lost it. And too many young people— who are disciples of nothing more than technology— have lost it. For them, horrifically, precipitating their own deaths feels like little more than scripting the suicides of actors. And the expressions of grief from “friends” who then inscribe their posthumous Facebook pages are just a bunch of nonsense that perpetuates the epidemic.
Keith Ablow, MD is a psychiatrist, and was host of the nationally-syndicated "Dr. Keith Ablow Show." He is a former member of the Fox News Medical A Team.