Cellphones, video games eyed in teen suicide study

SALT LAKE CITY — Researchers studying a spike in teen suicides in Utah found that 18 of the 150 youngsters who took their own lives in a five-year period had recently lost privileges to use their electronic devices such as phones, tablets and gaming systems, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report made public Thursday.

The report was released after outside researchers earlier this month issued findings based on CDC data showing an increase in suicide rates among teens across the U.S. over the 2010-2015 period occurred at the same time social media use surged. Teen suicides had declined in the two previous decades.

Both reports stop short of blaming electronics and social media for the rise in suicides, but say the findings beg for more research on the topic.

The findings add to a growing body of research that raise serious questions about whether young people who spend many hours on social media are more at risk for relationship problems, said Michael Friedrichs, a Utah state epidemiologist who was among those who spoke at a Thursday news conference in Salt Lake City.

More than half — 55 percent — of the Utah suicides from 2011-2015 had experienced a recent crisis, most of which were family or dating relationships, the report found.

“A social media connection or a phone connection is not a substitute for a real connection,” said Michael Friedrichs, a Utah state epidemiologist. “People need to go outside… There is a lack of connectedness that is not satisfied by being tethered to a gadget.”

Utah requested the federal investigation to get more in-depth research done after the rate of suicides among youth 10-17 more than doubled from 2011-2015.

The peak of 44 youth suicides in 2015 marked an all-time high — and was more than double the yearly average from the previous two decades, state figures said. The 2015 rate — 11.1 youth suicides per 100,000 — was also more than double the national rate.

The rate has decreased slightly in 2016-2017, but remains much higher than ever recorded previously, state data said.

The federal researchers did not find a single factor driving the increase, but found that mental health issues seem to be a common factor with 35 percent of the victims diagnosed with some kind of mental health issue and 31 percent depressed when they died, the report found.

The report found that nearly 8 in 10 who killed themselves from 2011-2015 were men.

The Utah report doesn’t break down why each of 18 victims…

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