Television and Teen Suicide: More Than a Coincidence?

Nutrition Health Review, Spring 1992 | Go to article overview
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Television and Teen Suicide: More Than a Coincidence?


Hershey, PA. Does watching television fill a teenager's mind with thoughts of suicide?

Perhaps.

A psychiatrist at Penn State's Milton S. Hershey Medical Center has found that the explosive rise of television in the last four decades has dramatically matched the rise in American teen suicide rates.

Paul Kettl, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry, and his co-workers have discovered that for every 100,000 Americans, the number of televisions in use, the number of households with televisions, and the number of families with more than one television set all correlated very highly with the rise in yearly suicide rates among 15-to 24-year-olds between 1950 and 1988.

"This study doesn't prove that there is necessarily a causal link between teen suicide rise and TV watching," Kettl says, "though I believe there is some."

The researchers also found the suicide-television link was even stronger than correlations of the age group's suicide rates and total drug, alcohol, marijuana or cocaine use as determined by six National Institute on Drug Abuse surveys or fourteen Senior High Student Surveys between 1974 and 1988.

But while television, with its unquestionably violent content, has been a powerful social force in American culture, Kettl says, it's hardly the only factor at work. He cites the demise of the American family - the rise in two-parent working families and rising divorce rates, for example, and the increasing drug and alcohol use among young people, as other role players. Teenage depression also has skyrocketed in the last several decades, he points out, an obvious reason for the increasing suicides.

"I think it can all be drawn together," he says. Any factor that could separate a person from his family would probably lead to a rise in suicide rates."

With the typical American household playing television an average of seven hours daily, Kettl points out that television captures most kids' attention for at least several hours a day.

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