Adolescent Experiences with Social Media and Suicidality

Published:December 11, 2022DOI:



      Examine social media experiences of the suicidal adolescent presenting to the Emergency Department with an acute mental health crisis.


      We used qualitative interviews to obtain in-depth understanding of both negative and positive impacts of social media use on acute adolescent suicidal behavior. A bilingual transcriptionist transcribed audio recordings. Three investigators independently reviewed transcripts to identify themes and develop initial coding scheme through “open coding.”  Using grounded theory, data collection proceeded along with cultivation of themes until thematic saturation was achieved. Thematic saturation was determined when no new themes were generated from the data. Data were coded in Dedoose software to facilitate reporting of themes and quotes. Techniques to ensure trustworthiness included iterative data collection, use of a coding framework, and multiple coders.


      Seventeen interviews were conducted from May to October 2020. Median participant age was 15 years. Twenty-four percent were of Hispanic ethnicity and 82% identified as cisgender. Major themes include distraction from negative emotions; facilitated communication resulting in improved social connectedness; metric of connectedness; comparison of self to others; and desensitization and normalization to suicidal acts. Minor theme of increased time on social media is also discussed. These themes echoed components of current suicide theory.


      Acutely suicidal adolescents report social media experiences that reflect themes of social alienation and learned capacity for suicidal acts. Themes echo components of current suicide theory. Our participants also reported positive uses of social media. These protective experiences should be leveraged to inform strategies to interrupt behaviors leading to acute suicidality.

      What's New

      This study brings to the literature direct accounts of suicidal adolescents and their lived experiences with social media at the point of a mental health emergency.  These experiences can inform strategies to interrupt behaviors leading to suicidality.


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