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  • Writer's pictureDayna Sharp, LCSW

Media and Mental Health

The idea that music, tv shows, movies and video games can impact the mental health of children, adolescents and even adults is not a new one. But the topic is back in trend again, after NPR's article entitled "Teen Suicide Spiked after Netflix's '13 Reasons Why' Debut, Study Says".

Could the media you engage with affect you or your family's mental health?

The National Institute of Health reports that the month after the tv show released, the number of completed suicides among kids age 10-17 rose unprecedentedly. It also showed that the rate of suicide remained higher than typical for the year after the show's debut. Of course, the study can't prove causation--the increase in suicides could be instead related to some other, unconsidered factor. But nevertheless, the National Institute of Mental Health is quoted sharing its own concerns about the connection between media content and mental health.

I can't speak to the larger level questions around censorship and public health, but I know that as a human being, a therapist and a parent, I am careful of what my body and mind are exposed to and encourage others to take equal consideration. I won’t offer a particular list of things that are healthy to watch and things that aren't—check out venues like “Common Sense Media” for that. Instead, I encourage you to pay attention to what you are feeling in your body and mind when surrounded by particular songs, shows, movies, video games, etc. If you’re feeling strong some sensations that are hard to bounce back from or if you just generally feel stress in your body stay away from that type of genre. And for our kids, even older kids-- make sure you know what kinds of media they are engaging with. As far as news and docudramas go, it’s kind of like a need to know question. Sure, it's important that teens understand what's going on in our society--but do they need to watch a graphic portrayal of a suicide? For me, the answer is a hard "no".

Tuning In

So yes, I limit my media diet. But beyond that, I wonder if the increase in suicidality among our youth is less of a "copycat" behavior, and more that these scenes have tapped into a deep sense of despair that lived quietly in the lives of these children. Perhaps "seeing" a completed suicide helps to normalize such an act, makes it easier to attempt--offers a hurting teen an offer of relief.

Tuning in to your kids and loved ones, I think, is the best way to protect them. Listening to them--their words, and the "music" underneath. Taking time to really see them. How are they feeling? Does their behavior, body language and voice match their words? Check in with them, "You seem down lately...I'm always here to talk, if you want to". Making sure that they know both with your words and actions, that you are available and you want to help. And part of that tuning in may be to create a healthy media diet. But it's only a part.

It can be scary and uncertain raising kids in our society. With new advances in technology, our kids can be exposed to some developmentally inappropriate, emotionally distressful things. But we can only control what is in our power--and the ways to respond haven't necessarily changed in line with the social advances. Making time. Tuning in. Protect when they need us, while encouraging independence. Easy words. Challenging actions.

Getting Help

If you or someone you love is at risk for suicide, please get help right away! Call 911, your local mental health hub (in the Haddonfield area, call 1-877-652-7264 for kids or 1-856-428-HELP for adults, in Philadelphia call 1-215-685-6440 for the DBHIDS Mental Health Delegate) or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline ( 1-800-273-8255 ).

If you believe your child not at risk for self-harm, but is struggling with big feelings, or if you are having a hard time "tuning in"as a parent, Creating Space Counseling and Wellness can help.

Call today to see if I might be a good match for you and your family. 856-281-1664


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