Teenage suicides are on the rise and recent statistics are alarming. According to Pew Research, child suicide rates have increased by as much as 150% since 2008. And the CDC’s 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that 19% of high school students considered suicide, 16% made a suicide plan, and 10% attempted suicide.
A local mother told how her son committed suicide after learning a dangerous game online.
“He was so incredible. I remember his hugs,” said Jennifer Mitchell.
Their son Ian went to East Lake High School.
“He was a good kid. You know, he was very loving,” she continued. “He was very nice and extremely funny. And also adventurous.”
Ian committed suicide three years ago, but Jennifer said she had no idea he had any mental health issues because on the surface things looked good.
“He had good grades. He was in honor class,” she said. “He wasn’t suspended or had problems at school or anything like that. He had friends, so he talked. And for the most part, everything seemed normal.”
But Ian had a secret online life with multiple social media accounts, where he watched dangerous games and learned how to play “Russian Roulette”.
“And the next thing you know, their content is different than yours. And the stuff they see is not okay. You know, it’s stuff you would never let your kid see,” Jennifer said.
By the time Jennifer hacked into Ian’s social media accounts and found the videos he had uploaded of him playing Russian roulette with a revolver, it was too late.
Ian died by suicide just before his junior year.
“He died from a shot in the head,” Jennifer said.
Unfortunately, according to Pew Research, suicides have long been responsible for the majority of gun deaths.
In 2020, more than half of all gun-related deaths in the United States were suicides. This compares to 43% murders.
The CDC also reported that more Americans died from gun-related injuries in 2020 than any other year on record.
Jennifer is still mourning the loss of her only child and not a day goes by that she doesn’t think of him.
“He just hugged me from behind and kissed my cheek and said ‘I love you,'” she said tearfully. “That’s what I miss.”
Matt Bergman, an attorney, recently founded the Social Media Victims Law Center.
“One of the problems is that not only are the products designed to be addictive, but they also defy parental authority,” he said.
In wrongful death lawsuits, Bergman has accused social media companies of algorithmically directing Ian and other children to certain material in order to get them hooked.
“With young girls, it’s often the content that encourages anorexia or body-hating imagery,” Bergman said. “For boys, it’s often dangerous activities like Russian roulette. And that’s exactly what happened here. It didn’t have to happen and it wasn’t an accident.”
Bergman also said the children’s mental well-being would continue to decline until these social media companies were held accountable.
“We believe that if a child is spared the fate that Ian had as a result of this work, then it was worth it. And I will be proud to have been a part of it,” added Bergman.
Bergman is representing Jennifer in a wrongful death lawsuit against Meta Platforms Inc., the owner of Facebook, Instagram and Snap Inc., the operator of Snapchat.
But no settlement can bring a child back, so Jennifer has this warning for other parents.
“I’m guilty of being one of those people who said, ‘Oh, these things don’t happen in our family,'” she said. “It was a mistake to say that because these things can happen in any family.”
ABC Action News host Wendy Ryan reached out to META about Jennifer Mitchell’s lawsuit against the company.
“We cannot comment directly given the active litigation,” Liza Crenshaw told Instagram Communications via email.
Snap Inc., which owns Snapchat, has still not responded to Ryan’s emails regarding Mitchell’s lawsuit.
In honor of Ian, Jennifer founded Ian’s Way, a non-profit teen suicide prevention group that offers free group counseling and mental health/suicide awareness.
For further information, click here.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, call the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Hotline at (800)-273-8255 or simply dial 988.