September marks National Suicide Awareness Month in the United States and, more notably, we recognize this week as National Suicide Prevention Week. September 10th is also World Suicide Prevention Day, which is observed annually around the globe as a call-to-action to prevent suicide. It is a time for communities to come together, raise awareness on the importance of mental health, and offer understanding to those who are struggling and guidance for others to support someone they may know is struggling.
Mental health, suicide, and self-harm continue to challenge us as a society, but especially our youth. There has been a sharp and alarming rise in adolescent suicide rates and adolescents who experience major depressive episodes, both of which have leapt 60% since 2007 in the United States. And in 2019, suicide was the fourth leading cause of death among 15-29 year-olds globally.
In a compelling podcast hosted by New York Times’ Michael Barbaro, guest Matt Richtel shared a simple, eye-opening statement: “The nature of threats to young people have changed.”
Their discussion explored two critical questions surrounding the growing crisis in adolescent mental health: 1) Why have suicide rates and depression spiked?, and 2) Why did it catch us off guard?
They cited two important root causes. First, the transformation of the public health risks that our youth face from externalized risks (dangers experienced in the physical world, such as binge drinking, drugs, teen pregnancy) to internalized risks (anxiety, depression, loneliness). And second, the earlier onset of puberty and its associated neurological changes.
Our daily technology-driven lives expose our teens to an endless cascade of information during a time when areas of the brain that drive emotions, social hierarchical cues, and competition are highly sensitized, while the areas that control response, coping, and processing have not yet developed. This mismatch creates an overwhelming sense of dread without the tools to filter and process what is truly important.
Richtel shares, “We have to do a better job providing the structure that acts partly as the regulatory function of the young person’s brain.” So, what does this mean?
As a community, as adults, as caretakers, as friends, it begins with listening to someone’s struggles, validating their emotions, and providing empathy and support to guide them through those moments.
ZEPETO is a creative technology platform. We understand that our services have the ability to spark positive and negative experiences for our users. It is our responsibility to recognize this and make the active effort to minimize the potential for harm and also provide resources for when they arise.
How we started:
- Community Guidelines & moderation: Our Community Guidelines are the North Star of our platform. They highlight and enforce our key policy values of safety, inclusion, diversity, dignity, and creativity. While our users create a dynamic and evolving ecosystem, our Guidelines allow us to prevent and protect them from harmful content and prohibit behavior that impedes others’ safety and comfort. Our vigilant moderation team utilizes human review, tools, and technologies to identify and respond to threats to our community’s well-being. We encourage our users to reach out with any concerns through accessible reporting touch points.
- Crisis Support: We recently launched new features to support users who are possibly going through trying times.
- Users can anonymously send in a report on other users who they believe may be experiencing thoughts of self-harm or suicide. Once the report is received, our ZEPETO team is able to send this person a link to our Crisis Resources page with information for helplines in 32 different countries, as well as global helplines.
- When users search “suicide” or “self-harm” within the app, we provide a link to our Crisis Resources page with a reminder that they matter and that they are not alone.
- Positive Collaboration: Puff Puff: To offer collaborative awareness and upliftment for our community in ZEPETO, we’ve partnered with Puff Puff, a virtual influencer representing positivity and encouragement, on a special event promoting the values of friendship, companionship, and affirmation. As a new media icon for empathy and resilience, Puff Puff represents the values we strive to uphold in our ZEPETO community. We’ve partnered to create a stuffed animal doll item and three unique poses expressing these values, so users can personalize their own content alongside Puff Puff. Through this content collaboration, we hope to offer a safe space for people of all backgrounds to share their own personal stories – from struggles to victories – to mutually inspire within a supportive community.
- Partnerships: We recognize that knowledge sharing with industry peers and subject matter experts is essential in keeping more users safe. We are committed to building partnerships to ensure our approaches to suicide and self-harm are well-informed and evidence-based.
The rise in mental health issues, suicide, and self-harm is an evolving challenge that requires a whole-of-society response. Strengthening our impact through peers and across industries, as well as taking ownership and holding each of ourselves accountable, to minimize potential harms is not just a step but a continuous exercise.
ZEPETO is dedicated to using our platform to nurture the creativity and free expression of our future generations. We understand that every person’s journey with us will vary and we will continue to build thoughtful tools and helpful resources to create a safer and more enriching experience.
If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of self-harm or suicide, or is in need of any emotional support, help is available. Please visit our Crisis Resources to speak with someone who can help guide you through how you are feeling.
Jackie Lho, Policy & Partnerships Manager, Trust & Safety and Janice Chung, Content Programming Lead