06/03/2013 11:45 am ET Updated Aug 03, 2013

Online Media and Teen Suicide

In the wake of 12-year-old Gabrielle Molina's suicide late last month, devastated parents and startled communities are seeking answers for how to best protect children and teens from the pressures of cyberbullying and digital harassment. Molina, a repeated victim of aggression from peers at school, also may have dealt with recurrent bullying online. A video of Molina fighting another student worked its way onto YouTube before her death, and Molina made reference to cyberbullying events in a suicide note left behind before she hanged herself in her home in Queens Village.

According to a preliminary report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 38,285 deaths were attributed to intentional self-harm in 2011, which represented the 10th leading cause of death for the year. During the same year, the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey found that 16% of high school students experienced some form of digital bullying within the past year.

Clearly, the pressures children and teens face online are more considerable now than in years passed. Victims are often unable to separate themselves from bullies who are just a click away online. Hateful text messages and the spreading of inappropriate content on social media, cell phones and video websites also represent serious concerns for parents, law enforcement agencies and educators. In addition to intentional aggression, today's young people are also more aware when they are left out of social events due to real-time updates on Facebook.

With so much tragedy experienced by teens and families across the nation, the need for reliable resources becomes more paramount. The following list includes leading support services across the nation for teens, parents and educators to turn to for crisis support:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline ( Launched in January of 2005 by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the Mental Health Association of New York City (MHA of NYC), The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers free and confidential support during a suicidal crisis.
  • The Trevor Project ( Providing comprehensive crisis intervention and suicide prevention to LGBTQ youth through digital means, The Trevor Project provides a free 24/7 national crisis hotline (866.488.7386), a secure online messaging chat service and a text message exchange option to receive support from trained specialists.
  • Law enforcement: Whether through well-person checks or direct crisis intervention, law enforcement personnel serve as excellent resources for troubled youth. Perform a simple Google search to identify local police stations for crisis support.
  • National Association of School Psychologists ( Governing school-based experts in mental health and assessment, NASP offers links to resources for parents and educators, research and journal articles, as well as programs and supports related to crisis intervention.
  • School based programs and supports: Schools provide some of the best crisis intervention available to children and teens. Most middle and high schools have several mental health professionals on staff, including social workers, psychologists and counselors. Elementary schools typically provide one social worker and/or psychologist for mental health support. These individuals also frequently provide school-wide suicide prevention programs such as the Signs of Suicide (SOS) Prevention Program used to empower teens to recognize warning signs and access supports. Any school's main office can connect inquiring individuals directly to the on-site mental health professional(s).
  • Counseling supports: Many states access private counseling agencies to support students in crisis. In Colorado, for example, the Second Wind Fund matches teens and children under 19 years of age who display suicidal tendencies with trained therapists in their local community. Even when school-based mental health supports are not available, school mental health providers can offer recommendations to private counseling agencies in the community.