In An Age of Digital, The Uncertainty of Existence

By, Sergio Burns

Worrying times in Ayrshire, Scotland and beyond. In the last few years there have been several high profile incidences of young people committing suicide.

A trend that has not gone unnoticed by researchers. The Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, for example, point out that while suicide among the older age groups seems to be declining, the opposite is true of young people whose rate of suicide is increasing. Soberingly, in the UK, suicide is now the leading cause of death in young people between the ages of 20 and 34, while it is also three times more prevalent among young men as it is among young women (Mental Heath Foundation).

Closer to home there have been well publicised stories in the local media of youngsters taking their own lives in Kilmarnock, Ayr, Darvel, Troon, Irvine and Stevenston.

To find out more I visited the Troon office of top psychotherapist and clinical Hypnotist Michael Jennings.

In the comfortable well furnished surroundings of his office, his walls decorated with certificates and diplomas, Michael is looking over at me sternly and shaking his head. He is showing me his diary with his bookings and making the observation that he is dealing with around three people a day who are having suicidal thoughts. Large numbers of clients who are self-referring or being referred by GPs, or, in many cases, parents.

“People presenting with suicidal tendencies are really getting quite severe just now,” Michael tells Ayrshire Magazine. “The numbers we are getting through is quite concerning. It is connected to the proxies and the platforms around social media, especially the platform called Ask FM.”

The Ask FM website has been cited in a number of media stories linking it to self harming and suicide. Ask FM allows their users to operate anonymously and protects them by using proxies which hide their locations. It could be the perpetrator of serious cyberbullying who, actually, lives in the same street, Michael points out, but the proxies divert people to Amsterdam, and then when they chase the culprit there to Germany and so it goes on.

“They could be the guy next door,” Michael reveals. “They could be telling you on social media that your parents don’t love you, or you should eat glass, or trying to coax you into committing suicide. The thing is, it is quite haunting, it is a black platform, it is a very dark place.”

Michael compares social media to a kind of ‘digital psychosis’ where the negative thoughts of a person are amplified, reinforced and encouraged by other people using similar platforms. Some may have genuine empathy with a person with anxiety, stress or, indeed, suicidal thoughts, while others may be using cyberbullying tactics to undermine and encourage an individual. For Michael, the repeated reinforcement acts like a voice inside that person’s head telling them to carry out acts they might otherwise not be inclined to follow.

In January this year 30 bereaved families across the UK placed the blame of their loved ones suicides on social media. Instagram, we are told, uses algorithms which….

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