Study shows teenage girls who spend a lot of time on social media are at a higher risk for suicide

The 10-year BYU study is the longest yet that researches the correlation between social media use and suicidality.

(Kiichiro Sato | AP file photo) The TikTok logo is displayed on a smartphone screen in Tokyo on Monday, Sept. 28, 2020. A recently released BYU study has found that teenage girls who spend more time on social media — including apps like TikTok — are at a higher risk of suicide.

Editor’s note • If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or the UNI Crisis Line at 801-587-3000.

A study by researchers at Brigham Young University has found that teenage girls who spend more time on social media are at higher risk for suicide.

The study, titled “Suicide Risk in Emerging Adulthood: Associations with Screen Time over 10 Years” and published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, tracked the social media use and mental health of 500 teenagers from 2009 to 2019. According to a news release from BYU, it’s the longest study yet on the correlation between social media use and suicide risk.

The study found that girls who used social media for at least two to three hours a day at the beginning of the study, and then increased their social media use over time, were at higher risk for suicide.

Increased social media use did not have the same impact on teenage boys in the study.

BYU professor Sarah Coyne, a lead author of the study, said in the news release that the relational aspect of social media could put pressure on girls.

“At 13, girls are just starting to be ready to handle the darker underbelly of social media, such as FOMO (fear of missing out), constant comparisons and cyberbullying,” Coyne said. “A 13-year-old is probably not developmentally ready for three hours of social media a day.”

In the release, Coyne suggested banning teenagers from using social media wouldn’t be the best way to help them. Instead, she recommended that parents set boundaries and talk regularly with their teenagers about what they see on social media.

“The goal is to teach them to be healthy users of social media, to use it in a way that helps them feel good about themselves and connect with other people, which is its real purpose,” Coyne said.

Utah is among the worst states in availability of mental health care, according to Tribune reporting. In 2019, the state had the fifth highest rate of suicide in the nation, and it was the leading cause of death among Utah children age 10-17.