Children are dying at younger ages in preventable ways. I am wondering why.
If you were born into this generation, you have certainly heard the comments. How awful millennials are. How lazy and unmotivated they are. Day in and day out there continues to be a general dislike for the next wave of adults, and I continue wondering why they get such a bad reputation.
The future our society is slowly dying. And soon enough, as the children turn into the adults, it will lead to a destructive environment for society as a whole. What is happening to younger and younger kids is seen an epidemic, not just a problem. As I touched on before, suicide rates are increasing in younger and younger kids. This is coupled with drug use and our current generations dependence on electronic devices.
Looking at this as one giant issue makes it impossible to find ways to solve the problem. When you are concerned about the end result, which is an increase in suicide rates, you aren't seeing the forest from the trees. And based on the most recent available data from the Journal of American Medical Association, there has been a statistical increase.
From 2005 until 2015, there was a 5.7 percent increase in suicides. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 4,600 people between the age of 10 and 24 commit suicide each year. While the numbers do seem relatively low, the idea that suicide rates are increasing exponentially is aided by the way in which information and news travels on social media.
The posts of "RIP" or "gone too soon" have proliferated Twitter.
Yet, we continue down this path, allowing the number of young people committing suicide to grow.
This is the most normalized, and in some cases the most dangerous form of generational issues being dealt with today. I speak from experience when I say that the rise of technology with children has been meteoric and has been impossible to remove myself from at times.
As a middle school student, I played Xbox, I "illegally" created social media accounts underage, if there was a trend among young kids, I was right in the middle of it. And who can really blame any kids for trying to stay on top of trends.
What we don't understand as kids and teenagers is that there is this great thing called the rest of the world outside of our schools and our social circles. What we slowly begin to learn in the early days of college on is that there is so much to do and so much going on that we don't really need to worry about these trends. Just focus on you.
But we all do this. In one way or another, the younger generations have not only experienced the stereotyping that is normally associated with high school: the jocks, the nerds, the popular girls, etc. Do I sound like the Breakfast Club yet?
But what we are also being faced with is the stereotyping through the internet, and more specifically, how negative this can be to the young mind. Think about it: if you are told all of your life you are one thing, you believe it.
And if you act that way in person, it makes it easier for you to fit that role. But when your role as a jock or geek or popular girl follows you home and dogs you non-stop on every social internet outlet you have, it becomes impossible to maintain mental happiness, or stability in general.
What people like my parents had was a "safe space" as they are known today. Essentially, they had a place they could go and be happy and not have to listen to other people trying to tear you down. You could go home and just enjoy your life, rather than having people say things about you online. What you have now is a non-stop tearing down of young people by peers, a tearing down that has increased slowly overtime.
And if we remember high school, when someone becomes the butt of a joke, it doesn't quickly go away. If you are the butt of a joke in 2018, you are living with that from the moment you wake up until the moment you go to sleep. Sound a little exhausting? Maybe that's why kids are committing suicide at a higher rate.
The electronics side of this isn't just about dependence on Netflix or electronics in general. Our society has been built around likes and followers. This immediate gratification of self worth has created mental health issues beyond just simply relying on the internet for entertainment.
We now rely on the internet for our emotional stability, creating a dangerous dependence that, if left unsustained, creates a negative self image for young people who feel like they don't fit in, and an emptiness in our life.
And the negative physical health affects are obvious. When you aren't going outside to play or be generally active, you are allowing your body and your mind to sit stagnant in the house, and in my personal experience this isn't healthy. Unfortunately, kids are finding more and more ways to involve themselves in unhealthy activities.
Drugs and Alcohol
This is not a new issue. But the ways in which it affects kids has seemingly gotten much more dire of late. The presence of drugs and alcohol in school has changed, both in form and prevalence.
According to the government Drug Abuse Agency, drug use is actually at an all time low in lots of categories:
This year's Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey of drug use and attitudes among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders in hundreds of schools across the country continues to report promising trends, with past-year use of illicit drugs other than marijuana holding steady at the lowest levels in over two decades–5.8 percent among 8th graders, 9.4 percent among 10th graders, and 13.3 percent among 12th graders. This is down from peak rates of 13.1 percent for 8th graders in 1996, 18.4 percent for 10th graders in 1996, and 21.6 percent for 12th graders in 2001.
Aside from the fact that we are talking about 8th graders and drugs, I found this report rather interesting, and it lead me to a number of conclusions quickly.
1) The use of "typical drugs" (Weed, cocaine, meth, heroine, etc.) is down from what it has been in the past and is certainly lower than what I would have expected.
2) The opioid epidemic is not centered around kids. And this is important. According to this quote from the same article:
"Despite the continued rise in opioid and overdose deaths and high levels of opioid misuse among adults, lifetime, past-year, and past-month misuse of prescription opioids (narcotics other than heroin) dropped significantly over the last five years in 12th graders (the only grade surveyed in this category)."
3) The use of alcohol is down, a sign that what once was popular is not as popular now. The real issue is what comes after it.
So what does this all mean?
To me, what we are seeing is a general decline in drug use, which people think is good. But what we are missing is the fact that drugs are still an issue. And on their own, drugs don't sound great, but they are fixable issues. Unfortunately, we miss the fact that there is more to drug use among kids than just simply getting high.
It starts with the opioid crisis. If you are like me, you think that the opioid crisis is focused around people my age, the youth of america. But what I am realizing more and more over time is that the issue of the opioid crisis is not a youth movement, it is the slow growing result of poor government regulation from years before. The root cause of that issue started before I was even born, so it doesn't directly relate to younger kids because we as a society are more aware of this issue.
And if numbers are declining in alcohol and marijuana consumption, then maybe its safe to assume we don't know what kids are doing. And if we don't know, its very safe to assume that kids really don't know what they are doing. With things like cough syrup and harder prescription pills becoming popular among the rich and famous, it is easy to assume that what is going on follows something along those lines.
Suicide and Depression
This is more of a conclusive topic than a separate issue, because in my opinion, this is a direct off spring of the two above mentioned issues. To understand this, let's follow a hypothetical chain of events:
Step 1: Internet addiction
As I have said before, addition to the internet is becoming more and more common. And this probably starts as early as Netflix for kids. The generation of babysitter by iPad is a dangerous trend. And the mental affects of it lie in instant gratification. When you learn as a child that you can have anything you want whenever you want, it can lead to dangerous behaviors down the road.
Another important consideration for this category, is the idea of suicide as an infectious disease. When young people die, one of the main outlets for expression of grief is through Twitter or Facebook. What happens when suicidal content comes across your timeline? What happens when you continue to see the negative sides of life? According to a study from the National Institute of Health, there is a very real connection here:
"We subsequently built the social network graphs. Our results show a high degree of reciprocal connectivity between the authors of suicidal content when compared to other studies of Twitter users, suggesting a tightly-coupled virtual community. In addition, an analysis of the retweet graph has identified bridge nodes and hub nodes connecting users posting suicidal ideation with users who were not, thus suggesting a potential for information cascade and risk of a possible contagion effect. This is particularly emphasised by considering the combined graph merging friendship and retweeting links."
Step 2: High School
This is a tough step, because this isn't something you can just avoid. And many of the negative things that come from high school revolve around decisions made by individuals and not the system as a whole. To explain, if a kid decides to be a bully, making jokes, comments, or even physical actions to others, it isn't because high school forced them to in some weird twisted way, they simply chose to make that choice.
Here is a quick video from CBS on the issue with a show like "13 Reasons Why":
Step 3: Drug/Alcohol dependence
This is the more extreme end of things, but it is becoming more and more prevalent. As I stated before, kids are being put under trememdous stress in high school, and if they grew up with this instant gratification society, they may be feeling more stress than the average students. When happiness doesn't come naturally through the everyday events of your life, it stands to reason you would look elsewhere for help. And this is when these dangerous addictions begin.
Drugs and alcohol can both give you the immediate relief you look for, allowing you to be happy for short periods of time, and causing you to chase that happiness on a regular basis. It is from this happiness chasing that addiction arises, and when it gets to that stage, it can sometimes be too late to stop people from the inevitable.
Step 4: Depression
Again, this gets into a marginal part of society. Not every kids goes all the way down this road that ultimately ends in depression. According to the Center for Discovery, only 20% of teens experience depression before adulthood. And while in each school, this may mean only a handful of kids, across the country, the total number of kids dealing with depression is certainly not small, and most definitely a lot higher than it should be. And according to the same site, only about 30% of these kids are receiving treatment for depression. It is no wonder that a the third leading cause of death among 15-24 year olds in depression.
Dude, Where's My Youth
The title for this article is set the way it is because it falls into the blog series I am working on. But unfortunately, this comes a lot closer to home than previous issues. Asking this question plays on the mental health of young people.
Where's the youth mindset? Where's the youth mental health?
These are questions which must be asked. And these are questions we must work on as a society. But more than that, the sad reality is that the answer to this question too often comes back as dead. While the issue of teen suicide seems to be a growing epidemic, it is more than just that.
The root cause of this issue is more than just a trend, it is a systematic problem that begins from the earliest days of a child's development. It is important that we continue to understand the individual issues affecting this. It is impossible to treat suicide by simply tweeting out hotline numbers and emotional tweets. It starts with the parents who are charged with leading their children through the formative years of life.
It starts with parents showing their children how to constructively handle criticism. It starts with showing kids how much of an impact a tweet has. I can personally say that when I was younger, I had no idea how much reach each of my tweets had. I suggest everyone takes a second and looks at the data offered for each individual tweet with Twitter's analytics, and it paints a pretty clear picture of how often your tweet gets seen.
And while it is probably safe to assume this issue will not drastically change immediately, we have the tools to change the factors leading to this.