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A counterintuitive design to prevent teen suicide

Published onMay 28, 2019
A counterintuitive design to prevent teen suicide

A counterintuitive design to prevent teen suicide

“I’ve struggled with mental illness for years, suffering from depression and my parents’ divorce. But I’ve also successfully come out of it, partly through support from online friends. To create a world in which every child grows up free of self-harming and suicide, I want to inspire hope in other people by building a global youth-led support forum for vulnerable youth. Because I know recovery is a realistic possibility.” – Skylar, 17

Suicide rates amongst teens keep increasing, and suicide is now the biggest killer of adolescents, especially girls (Ruch et al., 2019). The rights of children, set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), are government commitments that remain unmet in regard to the millions of vulnerable youth with suicidal ideation. Importantly, this segment of today’s youth population does not have its voice heard on platforms for policies and programs that directly affect them. Children outside the family environment, such as in institutions or on the streets, are especially marginalized because they are not part of the household surveys that generate global policy data. There has been speculation and some empirical data to suggest that the rise of social media use in youth is one factor that may be associated with increased suicidality (Twenge, 2017). While this is an area in need of further investigation, a marked increase in the use of social media for peer interaction, with more than 95% of youth now connected to the internet, represents a clear and powerful social change occurring over the same period. Given the complexity of suicidal ideation and the possible connection with social media, an online youth-led prevention strategy seems counterintuitive. However, we know that self-harmers and vulnerable youth with suicidal ideation withdraw from professional care and society, so an online youth-led forum is especially attractive to them. Besides this, we see a global rise in peer-led initiatives amongst people suffering from mental illness.

In this opinion piece, Skylar (17) will describe her vision for a global forum of youth, by youth and for youth, intended to facilitate a common understanding and generate workable solutions, while disseminating knowledge, tactics and data. This will be done based on the principles of 'agile science' (Hekler et al., 2016) with use of the framework of product experience (Desmet & Hekkert, 2007). In doing so, she will be supported by Jeff Balch (former professor at Stellenbosch University, South Africa), Todd Reid (epidemiologist and global health practitioner at MIT & Harvard) and Levi van Dam (child psychologist and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Amsterdam).


Desmet, P. M., & Hekkert, P. (2007). Framework of product experience. International journal of design, 1(1), 57-66.

Hekler, E. B., Klasnja, P., Riley, W. T., Buman, M. P., Huberty, J., Rivera, D. E., & Martin, C. A. (2016). Agile science: creating useful products for behavior change in the real world. Translational behavioral medicine, 6(2), 317-328.

Ruch, D. A., Sheftall, A. H., Schlagbaum, P., Rausch, J., Campo, J. V., & Bridge, J. A. (2019). Trends in suicide among youth aged 10 to 19 years in the United States, 1975 to 2016. JAMA network open, 2(5), e193886-e193886.

Twenge, J. M., Joiner, T. E., Rogers, M. L., & Martin, G. N. (2018). Increases in depressive symptoms, suicide-related outcomes, and suicide rates among US adolescents after 2010 and links to increased new media screen time. Clinical Psychological Science, 6(1), 3-17.

Jonathan Singer:

This sounds very interesting. Has the opinion piece been published?

Levi van Dam:

Thanx Jonathan, the opinion piece is not published, since we are waiting for this review: