If it seems like you never see a teenager without a smartphone, it’s not your imagination playing tricks on you. Young people can scarcely live without their mobile devices, but that undying devotion could make their lives woefully unhappy, new data shows. 
Ottawa Public Health, Ottawa’s agency for health information, programs and services, conducted a study finding that teens who use social media sites for two hours or more per day are significantly more likely to have mental health problems, including psychological distress and suicidal thoughts.
Researchers analyzed data from 750 students in grades seven through 12 taken from the city’s 2013 Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey. The students responded to questions concerning their social media habits, mental health and psychological well-being, and mental health support. Twenty-five percent of those surveyed said that they spent at least two hours a day using social networking sites like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. 
The heaviest social media users were more likely to report having poor mental health, psychological distress (symptoms of anxiety and depression), suicidal thoughts and unmet mental health needs. 
The scientists said their findings represent a double-edged sword: teens who are struggling with mental health issues may be more likely to use social media frequently, but excessive use of social media likely contributes to poor mental health over time. 
“It could be that teens with mental health problems are seeking out interactions as they are feeling isolated and alone,” Dr. Hugues Sampasa-Kanyinga, the study’s lead author, told The Huffington Post. “Or they would like to satisfy unmet needs for face-to-face mental health support.” 
The Ottawa study confirms a 2012 study that found a link between social networking and depression in high school students. The causality, however, remains a mystery. 
“The relationship between the use of social networking sites and mental health problems is complex,” Sampasa-Kanyinga said. “Simple use of social networking sites cannot fully explain by itself the occurrence of mental health problems.” 
On the microblogging site Tumblr, depression and mental illness is worn as a badge of honor among teens, where self-harm and depression is often romanticized. There has also been an epidemic of suicide among teens identifying as transgender on the site.
The deaths have launched memes, photo collages, and a romanticized view of suicide that has the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) very concerned about the potential for copycat suicides. 
After one teen committed suicide and posted his suicide note to Tumblr (he scheduled the site to publish it after his death), the AFSP pleaded with Tumblr to remove the post, which was already going viral. “[The post] has the potential to prompt copycat suicidal behavior,” AFSP warned in a sternly worded e-mail. “By removing this post, you could save lives.” 
“Suicide contagion,” as it’s referred to by mental health professionals, has been well-documented since the 1960s, but until fairly recently, the so-called contagion “spread” when suicides were depicted in movies or reported on in newspapers. 
“We don’t know as much about suicide contagion on social media as we do about contagion through newspapers or film Dr. Jill Harkavy-Friedman, the vice president of research for AFSP, told The Washington Post in February. “But we do know that it’s more concentrated, and the information is disseminated more rapidly.” 
To demonstrate how very real the phenomena is, psychology researchers have noted for decades that when Marilyn Monroe’s death was followed by months of extensive media coverage, a 12% jump in suicides was observed.
Numerous studies have proven that when a suicide receives a large amount of news coverage, more suicides are likely to follow. This is especially true if that coverage somehow glamourizes or romanticizes the death.
On Tumblr, vulnerable teens often add “R.I.P.” as an epitaph to those who have taken their own lives. It stands for “rest in power” – insinuating that instead of fighting against suicidal thoughts and feelings, the act of taking one’s own life is empowering, a natural consequence of the bullying and rejection faced by LGBT teens. 
Tumblr banned blogs promoting self-harm in 2012, but thanks to cryptic and shadowy hashtags, the site had 200,000 more of the blogs just a year later. 
Featured image source: Huffington Post / Image Source via Getty Images