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This post is by guest blogger Matthew Savage 

On June 19th, 2019, YouTuber and streamer Desmond Daniel Amofah, known by his fans as ‘Etika’ took his own life, jumping into a river and drowning. Just over 12 months later on 2 July 2020, the gaming world lost another very popular streamer in Byron “Reckful” Bernstein. Bernstein committed suicide after struggling with depression following the suicide of his eldest brother in July 1995. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon occurrence in the YouTube world. Many people have suggested that it is due to the harsh nature of the blogger audience – everything you say and do is critiqued by anyone watching. Others have suggested that the industry piles pressure on these streamers and influencers from within to continually produce more and more content, a demand that is often extremely stressful to fulfil. But this trend is not just confined to the world of the social media influencer. Recent trend data from The Samaritans (2019) has found that suicide is the biggest killer of young people between the ages of 16-24 years old in the UK. With social media being heavily linked to increased risk of depression, anxiety, loneliness, self-harm and suicidal thoughts, the key question is why is this rate increasing and what can we do to help in the fight against it?

So Why Do Social Media Influencers Seem to Be at High Risk of Suicide?

Over the last 10 years, over 60 YouTube streamers have committed suicide according to Wikitubia’s 2020 list of deceased YouTubers with at least 500 subscribers. Some commonalities are as follows:

  1. Cyberbullying – 7 out of 10 young people have experienced cyber bullying according to figures from the Royal Society for Public Health figures (2019) and many online influencers and streamers must learn to face mixed reviews on a daily basis. Lots of these reviews are often extremely critical, derogatory and offensive. Research has shown that “black and white thinking” is far more common online, a trait that is heavily linked to personality disorders and depression, so this behaviour negatively affects not only the influencer but also the commentator.

  2. Persona vs. the real self – As might have been the case with Etika, the “persona” many people create online is not their real personality. It can be hard to juggle both the persona and one’s real self, leading to self-esteem issues and other mental illnesses. In Etika’s final video, he notes how his persona “consumed” him.

  3. Competitive element of gaming – Gamers regularly take part in gaming competitions, such as Esports tournaments. Research in South Korea has found that problematic gaming leads to obsessive behaviours and loss of interest in other things, including eating, sleeping and socialising. The increased prevalence of gaming disorder and hazardous gaming in South Korea led to the introduction of the Cinderella Law in 2011, which forbids children under the age of 16 from playing computer games between the hours of 12am and 6am.
  4. Addiction – Many influencers have noted the addictive nature of posting and chasing likes and the fear of “fading into obscurity” if posts are not frequent enough (Alexander, 2019). This added pressure can lead to compulsive behaviours, sleep disturbances and increases in anxiety. The same is also reported for gamers, who often become addicted to the games.

What Are the Most Common Risk Factors in Social Media and Gaming Addiction?

Gaming disorder is defined by the World Health Organization (2020) as “a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour so severe that it takes precedence over other life interests”. However, excessive use of social media is still unrecognised as an addiction despite the fact both gaming and social media interaction can activate the “reward centre” of the brain, leading to a strong feedback loop of gaming and reward. Dopamine is released during the activity, a “feel good” chemical linked to pleasurable activities such as eating food, having sex and socialising. This reward can become so strong that gaming can take over a person’s life and this can be an extremely difficult cycle to break. In the case of influencers and their audiences, the same feedback loops can be created whilst using social media. The reward is associated with likes and comments.  

In addition to this, envy has been found to be a major emotion associated with negative social media usage. Envy is “the unpleasant emotion that can arise when we compare unfavourably with others” (Smith & Kim, 2007). It has been noted that using social media can lead to a negative impact on behaviour caused by comparison-related information and this, in turn, can lead to declines in psychological wellbeing including reduced self-esteem and life satisfaction, particularly in females (Chae, 2017).

How Can We All Help With the Problem?

  1. Think about the comments you are writing and the affect they would have on someone face to face – remember it is a human with feelings and not just a “character” you are commenting on. Would you say your comment to that person in real life? If the answer is no, do not post.

  2. Be aware of friends and family and their screen and gaming time – Gaming addiction is as serious as any other type of addiction. Many games can lead to addictive tendencies and these can lead to further social isolation, negative consequences and increase the risk factors associated with suicide.

  3. Apps - are available, such as AppDetox, AppBlock and StepLock to limit social media usage and gaming time.

  4. Being aware - of the warning signs of someone in distress can mean proactive measures can be taken by friends and family to support loved ones.

So, What Are the Warning Signs That Someone Is Potentially in Distress?

According to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (2020), the most immediate danger signs to be aware of include:

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself
  • Looking for ways to kill oneself, such as looking it up online or buying weapons
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
  • Talking about being trapped or lost
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increase in substance abuse
  • Acting anxious or behaving recklessly
  • Withdrawing from social activities and social isolation
  • Showing rage or talking about revenge
  • Extreme mood swings

We are all vulnerable to mental illness and must all look out for our friends and family. Knowing the signs and understanding the causes in the digital age can really help to combat the problem. If you have urgent well-being concerns or are in crisis, please contact your GP, NHS 111 or an organisation such as The Samaritans on 116 123.

About Matt Savage

Matthew Savage has an MSc in Psychology, is a qualified personal trainer, and has worked within the field of cognitive rehabilitation for 5 years. He is an FA qualified football coach, with a keen interest in moral behaviour and wellbeing within team sports. 

References

Alexander, J. (2019). YouTuber Etika’s death spurs conversation about how viewers react to creators’ mental health struggles. Retrieved from: https://www.theverge.com/2019/6/27/18759603/desmond-etika-amofah-death-youtube-creator-mental-health

Casserly, M. (2011). Multiple Personalities and Social Media: The Many Faces of Me. Retrieved from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/meghancasserly/2011/01/26/multiple-personalities-and-social-media-the-many-faces-of-me/#6adb87a86d51

Chae, J. (2018) Explaining Females’ Envy Toward Social Media Influencers. Media Psychology, 21(2), 246-262, doi: 10.1080/15213269.2017.1328312

Royal Society for Public Health. (2017). Status of Mind: Social media and young people’s mental health. Retrieved from: https://www.rsph.org.uk/uploads/assets/uploaded/d125b27c-0b62-41c5-a2c0155a8887cd01.pdf

Wikitubia. (2020). Retrieved from: https://youtube.fandom.com/wiki/Deceased_YouTubers

Samaritans (2019). Suicide statistics report: Latest statistics for the UK and Republic of Ireland. Retrieved from: https://media.samaritans.org/documents/SamaritansSuicideStatsReport_2019_Full_report.pdf

Suicide Prevention Resource Center (2020).  Warning Signs for Suicide. Retrieved from: https://www.sprc.org/about-suicide/warning-signs

 

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