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Smartphones, cyberbullying seen as possible causes of rising teen suicide rate

Suicide and social media
Teen suicide is on the rise, leading some to question if social media is to blame 02:42

Jennifer Gonzales describes her 17-year-old son, Jack Farrell, as "an all-around great kid -- he was an athlete."

Gonzales said Jack seemed fine last Thanksgiving. 

"The next day, I get woken up by the police knocking on my door saying I needed to come with them right away," Gonzales said. "I found out then that he had shot himself in the head."

Jennifer Gonzales' 17-year-old son, Jack Farrell, shot himself in the head. CBS News

New data from the Centers for Disease Control show suicide rates for boys like Farrell aged 15 to 19 has increased more than 30 percent.

Three years ago, Conrad Roy died in a truck from carbon monoxide poisoning after his friend Michelle Carter encouraged him to commit suicide through dozens of text messages. In a highly publicized trial, we learned both teens suffered from mental illness. 

The CDC also says suicide rates for teenage girls are at a 40-year high.  Experts cite family instability and substance use as some factors for suicide, but the role of cyberbullying is becoming more prevalent. 

Twelve-year-old Mallory Grossman killed herself after what her mother says she was cyberbullied. CBS News

In June, 12-year-old Mallory Grossman took her own life. Her mother Diane says it was because she was harassed in texts, on Snapchat and Instagram.

"In the beginning, it was just teasing, it was name-calling. Exclusion was an important part -- 'you can't sit here, you're not welcome at this table,'" Grossman said.  

"Teens are much more likely now than they were just five years ago, or seven years ago, to say that they are anxious and depressed and thinking about suicide," said Jean Twenge, a psychologist at San Diego State University.

Jean Twenge wrote in The Atlantic that there is a correlation between teen suicide rates and smartphone use. CBS News

In a provocative new article for The Atlantic, Twenge makes a correlation between the popularity of smartphones and increased rates of suicide and depression among young people.

"Teens who use electronic devices more hours a day are more likely to be a risk for suicide," Twenge said. 

Twenge says the so-called smartphone generation is less likely to have face-to-face interaction with friends, which she says is crucial to mental health and building social skills. 

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