Study: Social Media and Atheism Linked to Higher Suicide Risk Among Teens

Teenagers who are heavily influenced by social media and who don’t have a firm spiritual grounding have a significantly higher risk for suicide, according to a new study. 

The study of over 4,700 teens ages 14 to 17 in nine countries found a correlation between atheism/agnosticism/spiritual uncertainty, heavy use of social media and destructive thoughts. Specifically, “rates of destructive thoughts are more common among teens who express that they don’t believe in anything spiritual, are uncertain about their beliefs, or believe they sin, but don’t believe in Jesus,” the study found.

The study by the Center for Bible Engagement at Back to the Bible in partnership with Our Daily Bread Ministries called itself “one of the first studies to consider the relationships among spirituality, social media, and mental health.” Destructive thoughts are a risk factor for suicidality, the study noted. 

Destructive thoughts are more common among teens who, for example, endorse such beliefs as “I have no need for God,” “I’m spiritual, but don’t believe in God,” “God does not exist” and “there is no afterlife when we die.” 

By comparison, teens who are engaged with the Bible are significantly less likely to have destructive thoughts, according to the study. 

The study found that the “high suicide risk” among teens was linked to their “spiritual beliefs and social media experience,” according to the Center for Bible Engagement.

Teens who live in the United States and the United Kingdom are more likely than teens in other countries to experience destructive thoughts, the study said. 

“As one of the first studies to consider the relationships among spirituality, social media, and mental health, the data deepened our understanding of the inner world of today’s teens,” said Arnie Cole, director of research and development at the Center for Bible Engagement. “We also provide some beginning evidence of factors that increase or lower their risk of destructive thoughts including engaging the Bible and limiting social media usage. Our goal is to develop with our partners a suite of Bible engagement/spiritual growth tools that include a teen spiritual fitness assessment that could predict self-destructive behavior ranging from suicide to homicide. Not only to predict but recommend spiritual fitness activities to prevent it.”

Photo credit: Dole/Unsplash

Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chroniclethe Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

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