The truth about social media and teenage suicide: The Molly Russell story

The truth about social media and teenage suicide: The Molly Russell story

The coroner ruled it was “…an act of self-harm while suffering from depression and the negative effects of online content.” The truth about social media and teenage suicide – the heartbreaking, yet hopeful, Molly Russell story…

’If you’re struggling, please speak to someone you trust or one of the many support organizations, rather than engage with online content that may be harmful.’  Molly’s father, Ian Russell

Molly Rose Russell was 14-years-old when she died on November 21, 2017.

The inquest – judicial inquiry – at North London Coroner’s Court ended this past Friday.

Coroner Andrew Walker attributed Molly’s death to…

…an act of self-harm while suffering from depression and the negative effects of online content.

He went on to say the online material Molly viewed on platforms, including Pinterest and Instagram, “was not safe” and “should not have been available for a child to see.”

The Molly Russell story

Molly Russell lived in Harrow, a northwest suburb of London. According to her father, she showed no obvious signs of severe emotional or mental illness until a year before her death.

It was then that the family noticed major changes, including feelings of worthlessness, a deepened sense of helplessness, and social withdrawal.

Still, to her family, Molly’s life appeared to be normal.

Her mother’s statement

During the inquiry, a statement was read to the court on behalf of Molly’s mother, detailing the discovery of her daughter’s body.

Mrs. Russell said she was doing household chores on the morning of Molly’s death. After sending one of her other daughters off to school, she began searching the house for Molly – but couldn’t find her.

Then the shock and heartbreak…

I knew then something wasn’t right. I saw a load of her clothes on the floor (of her bedroom). For some reason I thought Molly had run away.

As I looked in her room, I found her…I had no doubt it was her.

I can’t even imagine.

Social media and teenage suicide

molly russell story

Molly Russell

Mr. Walker’s ruling – “…an act of self-harm while suffering from depression and the negative effects of online content.” – was unprecedented.

It was the first of its kind to directly and officially blame a child’s death on social media.

Also unprecedented was requiring the in person, under oath testimony of representatives of the two platforms involved.

Jud Hoffman, Global Head of Community Operations, stood for Pinterest. Meta, owner of Instagram, sent Head of Health & Well-Being Policy, Elizabeth Lagone.

We’ll get into some telling cross-examination details in just a bit.

Molly’s online activity

In her father’s words, Molly’s online environment was “the bleakest of worlds.”

During the inquiry he stated a lot of the content Molly was viewing seemed to “normalise” self-harm and suicide, while discouraging people from pursuing mental health care.

When Mr. Russell looked at Molly’s YouTube account he saw numerous normal teenage “likes” and “follows.” And there were a similar high number of disturbing posts pertaining to anxiety, depression, self-harm, and suicide.

Molly had accounts with Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, and two with Twitter (one secret).

She used her Instagram account up to 120 times a day.

Of the 16,300 posts she saved, shared, or liked on Instagram in the six-month period before her death, 2,100 were depression, self-harm, or suicide-related.

Mr. Russell expressed shock when he saw the subject lines of the emails were clearly promoting depression-related content.

Trapped by algorithms

Perhaps most exasperating of all, some of the emails were selected and provided without a request from Molly.

How horrific was the material? A testifying child psychiatrist said even he found it disturbing and distressing. After the inquiry, he said there were times over several weeks that he was unable to sleep well.

And given that a depressed 14-year-old viewed the material over a period of months, there could be no doubt Molly was affected.

Even after her death, the disturbing content continued to be delivered.

John Naughton of The Guardian nailed it when he wrote, “Molly Russell was trapped by the cruel algorithms of Pinterest and Instagram.”

Pinterest and Meta respond

During the inquiry, cross-examination of the two company representatives spoke volumes.

The Russell family’s lawyer, Oliver Sanders KC, walked Mr. Hoffman of Pinterest through the last 100 posts Molly had seen before she died.

Hoffman expressed deep regret that she was able to access some of the content.

He even admitted that recommendation emails sent by Pinterest to Molly, such as “10 depression pins you might like,” contained disturbing content and images he wouldn’t show his children.

Meta’s turn

It was a little different with Ms. Lagone of Meta. Evidence was presented showing that, as said earlier, of the 16,300 posts Molly saved, shared, or liked on Instagram in the six-month period before her death, 2,100 were depression, self-harm, or suicide-related.

Sanders then asked if she believed the material is safe for children.

Lagone’s first reply was it’s safe for people to be able to express themselves. Not satisfied, he asked again. Lagone said she didn’t find it a binary question.

Sanders was relentless. He asked, “So you are saying yes, it is safe or no, it isn’t safe?”

Lagone replied, “Yes, it is safe.”

The aftermath

molly russell story

Advocate for health and peace for our young people.

Instagram already announced in 2019 that it will ban all graphic self-harm images and drawings as part of a series of changes made in response to Molly’s death.

Mr. Hoffman admitted Pinterest was “not safe” in 2017, when Molly died. And they have since introduced measures to limit access to dangerous content.

However, when the co-founder of Pinterest, Ben Silbermann – a father of two, was asked at his home if he believed his platform is dangerous for kids, he replied, “I don’t have any comment.”

Her father’s grace and vision

In response to the coroner’s ruling, Molly’s father had the grace and vision to say “there is always hope” no matter how “dark it seems.”

More of his wisdom and love…

If you’re struggling, please speak to someone you trust or one of the many support organizations, rather than engage with online content that may be harmful.

Thank you, Molly, for being my daughter. Thank you.

We should not be sitting here. This should not happen because it does not need to happen. We told this story in the hope that change would come about.

During the inquiry Mr. Russell emphasized “It’s OK not to be OK.”

International attention

The coroner’s ruling received well-deserved international attention. Here’s what Prince William tweeted from the official Prince and Princess of Wales account…

No parent should ever have to endure what Ian Russell and his family have been through. They have been so incredibly brave. Online safety for our children and young people needs to be a prerequisite, not an afterthought.

Well said.

No more denial and ignorance

The coroner ruled “…an act of self-harm while suffering from depression and the negative effects of online content” killed Molly Russell.

And we all know she isn’t the only one.

Molly’s story is heartbreaking, but now hopeful. Social media’s deadly impact upon our youth can no longer be denied – ignored.

Let’s advocate for health and peace for our young people – and continue to monitor the work of Silicon Valley.

Be sure to connect with the Molly Rose Foundation. Established in Molly’s memory by family members and friends, its mission is to reach out to those under the age of 25 who are at risk of suicide. The foundation provides a ton of help, support, and practical advice.

If you or someone you care about needs help or are in immediate danger, the Foundation has incredible resources. Go to their Find Help page and tap on the green box: “To use the Find a Helpline service click here.” There are other resources available as well.

Let’s fast-forward a bit. Take a look at Social media and youth mental health: An advisory.

Sources: The Guardian, Daily Mail, BBC, The SunNew York Post

Image of Molly with permission: Molly Rose Foundation. That is not Molly in the featured image.

More Chipur mood and anxiety disorder info and inspiration articles? The titles are waiting for you.

Adult separation anxiety disorder: What you may not know

Adult separation anxiety disorder: What you may not know

He told the boss he couldn’t do the trip because he’s not feeling well. The real issue is he’s afraid to be away from his wife. What he, and you, may not know about adult separation anxiety disorder…

Imagine constantly being afraid that horrible things will happen to those you love the most: spouse, partner, children, etc.

Our friend above is in a major jam.

Thing is, this isn’t the first time he begged off something important because of his fear of being separated from his wife.

And he isn’t alone. Some 7% of the population have had a go with adult separation anxiety disorder.

What you may not know…

What is adult separation anxiety disorder?

Officially, adult separation anxiety disorder no longer exists.

See, once upon a time separation anxiety was considered a child and adolescent disorder. But that changed with the arrival of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) in 2013.

So separation anxiety disorder now covers the lifespan.

Separation anxiety disorder DSM-5 diagnostic criteria

Let’s take a good look at separation anxiety disorder by reviewing DSM-5 diagnostic criteria…

Developmentally inappropriate and excessive fear or anxiety concerning separation from those to whom the individual is attached, as evidenced by at least three of the following…

  • Recurrent excessive distress when anticipating or experiencing separation from home or from major attachment figures
  • Persistent and excessive worry about losing major attachment figures or about possible harm to them, such as illness, injury, disasters, or death
  • Persistent and excessive worry about experiencing an untoward event (e.g., getting lost, being kidnapped, having an accident, becoming ill) that causes separation from a major attachment figure
  • Persistent reluctance or refusal to go out, away from home, to school, to work, or elsewhere because of fear of separation
  • Persistent and excessive fear of or reluctance about being alone or without major attachment figures at home or in other settings
  • Persistent reluctance or refusal to sleep away from home or to go to sleep without being near a major attachment figure
  • Repeated nightmares involving the theme of separation
  • Repeated complaints of physical symptoms (such as headaches, stomachaches, nausea, or vomiting) when separation from major attachment figures occurs or is anticipated

The extras

Key in diagnosing the adult version of separation anxiety disorder is the fear, anxiety, or avoidance persisting for six months or more. By the way, for children and adolescents it drops to four weeks.

what causes separation anxiety disorder

“He should be home soon. But why can’t I let it go?”

In addition, there isn’t a “disorder” unless there’s significant distress or impairment in social, academic, occupational, or other necessary areas of functioning.

That’s an important caveat to keep in mind with any emotional/mental situation. I mean, as badly as we may feel in the moment, there’s at least some consolation in knowing we aren’t at disorder magnitude.

Of course, the goings-on can’t be attributed to another emotional, mental, or physical situation. And that can be tricky because of the mood and anxiety disorder overlap factor.

Is that a good enough look?

The brutal fallout

This is seriously unpleasant stuff. Imagine constantly being afraid that horrible things will happen to those you love the most: spouse, partner, children, etc.

And it comes down to being terrified of being alone. That can lead to demanding to know where these people are at all times.

No wonder many with adult separation anxiety disorder are over-involved parents and overbearing partners. And no wonder the adults and children on the receiving end suffer terribly.

What causes separation anxiety disorder?

As with any mood or anxiety disorder, the cause of separation anxiety disorder in adults is that all too familiar combo of nature and nurture.

Instead of opening that frustrating can of worms, we’ll go with risk factors…

  • Diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, bipolar disorder, depression, and personality disorders (emphasis on cluster B)
  • Diagnosis of separation anxiety disorder as a child or adolescent (applies in some 36% of adult cases)
  • Traumatic separation such as loss of a loved one or divorce
  • Growing up with overbearing or neglectful parents
  • Childhood or adolescent trauma or attachment issues

Along with signs and symptoms, use these risk factors to realistically assess what’s going on and reach out for help if indicated.

Hey, if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, it’s more than likely – a duck.

How is adult separation anxiety disorder treated?

Treatment for adult separation anxiety disorder is similar to interventions for other anxiety disorders. A therapy and meds combo show higher success rates in managing symptoms.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in an individual, group, and/or family setting is the most common therapy used. A type of CBT, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), may be an option.

When it comes to meds, there are no FDA-approved drugs for the treatment of separation anxiety disorder.

It’s interesting, however, that the tricyclic antidepressant clomipramine (Anafranil) is FDA-approved for the treatment of separation anxiety in dogs (ruff).

For we humans, antidepressants, particularly the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), are most often prescribed. Benzodiazepines may be prescribed in special situations.

What you may not know…

Separation anxiety disorder – in this case, the adult version – can bring on all sorts of torment for those wrestling with it and the people they love.

I think it deserves much more attention than it gets.

If you or someone close to you are struggling with any of what we discussed, it’s time to do something about it.

What you may not know can hurt you.

Thanks to healthline and Thriveworks for reference material.

What better time than now to review the Chipur titles? Mood and anxiety info and inspiration.

2021: 12 tips for making it a wonderful year

2021: 12 tips for making it a wonderful year

Don’t look now, but 2020 is all but history. That’s just fine by me. But what really matters is how we’re feeling about 2021. I’m looking forward to it, and really believe it can be a wonderful year. Here are 12 tips to help make it just that… 

Come to understand your life’s meaning and purpose. Let it define your journey, and work toward fulfillment everyday.

A quirky thought hit me as I was putting this piece together. Let me run it by you…

Do you find it interesting that we make such a big deal about drawing lines between years on our calendars and in our lives? I know it goes way back, and serves multiple purposes, but I think it’s a curious practice. After all, time knows no boundaries. 

Speaking of time, here’s a fascinating take from Albert Einstein. In a letter of condolence to the sister of his best friend, who had died, he included this…

For us believing physicists the distinction between past, present, and future only has the meaning of an illusion, though a persistent one.

Seems as though Einstein’s calendar had no lines.

New year’s resolutions?

So, do you have your new year’s resolutions at least thought-out, if not carved in stone?

I don’t.

See, I don’t do new year’s resolutions. And I don’t encourage others to rack their brains over them. Nah, they’re often loaded with unrealistic expectations, which end-up making the “resolutioner/expecter” feel defeated and inferior when one or more don’t pan out.

Do you agree?  

12 tips for making 2021 a wonderful year

new years resolution

“I’m feelin’ really good about 2021.”

Okay, so new year’s resolutions don’t float my boat. But that doesn’t mean I don’t ponder and adopt custom strategies and goals for the coming year.

And I’ll tell you something: I believe doing so is absolutely essential for anyone trying to manage a mood or anxiety disorder. I mean, seat-of-the-pants living doesn’t work well for us.

With that in mind, here are 12 tips for making 2021 a wonderful year for anyone dealing with a mood or anxiety disorder…

  1. Consider acceptance when it comes to your mood or anxiety woes. Some things will change, some won’t. Internal fighting generates stress and depletes energy. 
  2. Expectations can be devastating. Carefully choose what you want of, and for, yourself. And apply gently. 
  3. COVID-19 isn’t going to magically disappear, so go easy on thoughts of returning to “normal.” 
  4. Come to believe that every day is a gift and strive to make the best of each and every one. 
  5. Don’t lose the forest for the trees. Looking after fine details may be important, but trouble awaits if we lose sight of the big picture.
  6. Make lending someone a hand a daily priority, So many are suffering. If anyone knows what that feels like, it’s us.
  7. Be thankful. If you can’t find anything worthy of gratitude, look harder.  
  8. Learn to catch feeling and behavior altering thinking – especially cognitive distortions – and make indicated adjustments.
  9. Don’t turn your back on healthy living habits – self-care. If your body and mind fail, you’re in deep weeds.
  10. Come to understand your life’s meaning and purpose. Let it define your journey, and work toward fulfillment everyday.
  11. Find and nurture a relationship with a spiritual power. We need to know there’s a bigger and more mighty being than us.
  12. Never let go of hope. It’s real, and at times it may be all we have.

Think those will help? Give some of them a go and see how they positively impact your life.

Pop the cork

So bye-bye 2020, it’s time to embrace 2021. Again, I’m looking forward to it because I really believe it can be a wonderful year. I’m hoping you feel the same.

Yeah, pop the cork…  

Happy New Year!

help for depression

How to become self-aware. It’s not about finding yourself.

How to become self-aware. It’s not about finding yourself.

Who am I? The question is as old as life itself. And coming up with satisfactory answers can be an ongoing struggle. How ’bout we turn to our guest poster, Claire, for some meaningful insight?

It was at this time that I realised that I never had to find myself. I was always here. I was just changing, growing and learning.

She sent me an introductory email not too long ago. And before you know it we were chatting about guest posting.

Now, if you’ve hung around Chipur for any length of time, you know I rarely accept guest posts. But Claire’s approach, background, and message felt right, so I was happy to welcome her work.

Speaking of her background…

Claire has suffered from anxiety and depression for most of her life. She also deals with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Fortunately, she’s at a stage in her life where things are finally feeling good.

Claire has always been driven to help people. She loves to put a smile on others’ faces and know that with some deed – small or large – she’s helped make someone’s life a little bit better.

Claire blogs from the UK at Miss Serenity, where her aim is to grow a community of like-minded people who can feel like they have a safe space to be themselves – and not be told to “pull themselves together” or be judged for how they feel.

So let’s get after it. The floor’s yours, Claire…

Claire’s personal intro

When I was first told that I had anxiety and depression, it made a lot of sense to me. It explained so many of the things I had going on, from IBS to constant worrying, to catastrophising and everything else besides. But it left me feeling like I didn’t really know who I was anymore.

I felt lost. I needed to learn how to become self-aware.

Being diagnosed with a mental illness makes you question everything. What does this mean about what you’ve believed about yourself for years up until now? Who are you? Where do you go from here?

What does it mean to find yourself?

how to find yourself

“Guess I don’t really have to ‘find myself,’ after all.”

For me, it was trying to figure out who I was before I knew I had anxiety – the carefree girl from “way back when” who was the life and soul of the party, was always surrounded by people and didn’t worry about EVERYTHING.

I tried to go back, to start dressing how I used to dress, (even if it was dated now!) get my hair cut the way I used to, wear the old makeup. It didn’t help, it felt like I was trying to be someone else.

So then I tried to re-invent myself, maybe I was hiding under someone new. I tried different clothing styles, listened to music I had never heard before, wore my hair longer, tried different makeup.

I still didn’t feel like “me.” So I stumbled through life, in a cycle of ups and downs, not sure where I was headed or what I was supposed to do in life.

I tried out different business ideas, maybe I’m supposed to be an entrepreneur that changes the world!!!

My “aha” moment

Fast forward many years to 2020, and like everyone else in the world, I’m in lockdown because of COVID-19. Time for some reflection!

I found myself alone a lot, while my husband was still working; thinking a lot about an old friend, who I no longer have contact with. I realised that she would no longer recognise me. Not because I look any different, but because I am a different person.

Through my journey with anxiety, depression and IBS, I have changed. My values are different. But they are my values and no one else’s. I became vegan, found a style that worked for me, and have grown in confidence about what I believe.

The person I used to be was quick to change to suit the people around her, to be liked. I felt like a hypocrite when it came to my love of animals – eating meat and dairy. I was in a relationship with someone who emotionally abused me.

It was at this time that I realised that I never had to find myself. I was always here. I was just changing, growing and learning.

You don’t need to find yourself

This is why I believe that so many people struggle with trying to find themselves. Becoming self-aware is not about “finding yourself,” it’s about understanding that everything changes. Friendships come and go, styles change, jobs evolve, and we are no different. We adapt to our situations, and we learn as we grow.

So as soon as you reach that point, where you think you have “found yourself,” something may change, and you will feel lost again; as you adapt to your new situation.

How to become self-aware

The most beneficial thing I have found is how to become self-aware of who I am NOW.  What do I believe in right now? Am I living a life that aligns with my current values?

When we do this, it makes us feel more in sync with ourselves; and as we learn new things, we can adjust our self-awareness too. We just need to make sure we are living in line with our values.

So take the time to think about what you believe in. Write down your values. Does your life reflect those beliefs? If not, make changes and see how you feel. Whenever you feel like you’re falling out of sync, revisit those values, are they still the same?

Adapt to your new beliefs as you grow and learn, and you will feel more balanced.

Thank you, Claire

Nothing I could I possibly add, except to say, “Thank you, Claire.”

Be sure to visit her at Miss Serenity, okay? I know you’ll find all sorts of meaningful – helpful – goodies.

Hey, plenty more where this baby came from. Be sure to peruse those hundreds of Chipur titles.

Every day, all day, it comes down to you. What and why you need to know…

Every day, all day, it comes down to you. What and why you need to know…

It’s curious how we’re encouraged to be selfless in a selfish world. Actually, surviving this selfish world requires selfishness. So every day, all day, it has to come down to you. Here’s the skinny and why you need to know…

No doubt, it’s useless pursuing relief interventions if we’re convinced external forces are responsible for our misery.

Our buddy above looks a little indignant – even pleasantly surprised. Here’s what’s going on…

For the past three months she’s had about all she can take from this world. You know the drill – the virus, social unrest, nasty politics, etc. She’s come to perceive herself as a victim. And that’s because she believes she has no control over the onslaught of one external attack after another.

So she views her frustration and misery as “their” fault. Whoever “they” may be.

Just recently, a close friend suggested she was responsible for all of that frustration and misery. Her friend went on to share some very hopeful news: she could do something about it. Sure, our buddy was “a little indignant – even pleasantly surprised.” She also knew she was going to have to become a little self-centered.

Her friend’s wisdom applies to us.

It comes down to you: helpful tools

i need help

Who couldn’t use a little help?

If any of us are to neutralize the impact of external attacks – practicing healthy “self-centeredness” – we may well need some help. After all, it doesn’t necessarily come naturally.

Here are two concepts I believe will lend a hand. And as they assist, they’ll facilitate learning a bunch about ourselves.


Locus of control

No doubt, it’s useless pursuing relief interventions if we’re convinced external forces are responsible for our misery. Something known as locus of control (LOC), a personality component, addresses our perception about the primary foundational cause(s) of the goings-on in our lives.

Cutting to the chase, do we believe our destiny is controlled by internal or external forces?

Those with internal LOC believe their behavior is guided by personal decisions and beliefs. Often presenting is confidence in the ability to manage themselves and influence the world around them. The future? It’s perceived as resting in their own hands, and it’s believed personal choices generate success or failure.

Fact is, as we age, our LOC tends to become more internal.

Those with external LOC believe control over events, and what other people do, is beyond them. Indeed, they believe they personally have very little, or no, management over such things. They may even go so far as to believe others have control over them, and they have no option but to obey.

Seems our buddy has been living with external LOC.

Though theory and research indicate LOC is largely learned, there’s evidence showing it’s a response to circumstances. For my money, that means an external who wants to transition to the internal side of the fence can certainly hope to do so.

Can you see how locus of control may significantly impact our take on troubling external factors? By the way, are you an innie or an outie?

Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT)

Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) is often considered to be the grandparent of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). I mention it frequently because its model is so easy to understand. In our discussion, the “T” is going to stand for theory, not therapy.

Though there are several more components to the REBT model, this is what’s most important to us…

A = Activating event
B = Belief system of the individual
C = Consequences of emotion and behavior

When intense emotional and behavioral consequences (C) occur, we typically blame the activating event (A). According to REBT, the real culprit is our belief system (B). So it looks like this…

A occurs
B = C
Instead of A = C

So we can better understand the flow, let’s bring our buddy’s circumstances to our little equation…

A: Activating Event
She can’t avoid the news. And the alarming reporting on COVID-19 goes on and on.

B: Belief System
She believes the whole mess will never end, and there’s no way her life will ever return to a fulfilling “normal.” She also believes there’s more to the virus than what we’re being told. “They” are in charge, so everyone’s in peril. If all that isn’t enough, she’s convinced she’ll eventually get sick. And if that happens, she’ll die.

C: Consequences of Emotion and Behavior
She feels as though she’s a victim, having no control over her circumstances. In her mind, why even try anymore? She’s become – you name it – helpless, hopeless, irritable, fatigued, isolating, moody, anxious. She finds it difficult to get out of bed and can’t wait for an acceptable time to head back.

Our buddy definitely believes her “C” are being caused by “A.” Her friend is trying to convince her it’s all about “B.” And she’ll never find relief unless and until she buys-in. Then, of course, she’ll have to change her belief system.

Every day, all day

Perhaps you agree that engaging with – managing – challenging external factors has to be an every day, all day, selfish mission. Hopefully learning about locus of control and rational emotive behavior theory will help you along the way.

Incidentally, why do we need to know the skinny?

Our buddy found herself in a major jam. Given her perspective I’m not so sure she would have emerged. But she listened to a friend and now she stands a chance.

Would you consider me even kind of a friend? Did you listen?

Check-out these Chipur articles if you’d like to learn more about locus of control and REBT.

If you’re looking for some meaningful and inspirational reading, my eBook may work for you: Feelings & Rhymes Through Treacherous Times.

And don’t forget to peruse hundreds of Chipur titles.