The idea virus: A brief look at the epidemic of Utah teen suicide rates

In Utah, the leading cause of death for 10-17-year-olds is suicide. 

Let that sink in for a moment.

I am often asked, “Why does this keep happening?”

The challenge is the way ideas spread. Sticky ideas move from one person to the next like a virus.

Malcolm Gladwell describes this in his brilliant book, The Tipping Point, on how ideas penetrate the masses like epidemics.

The first thing we must see is:

Social movements, like how rumors spread, or smoking, and yes, suicide, rely on “three agents of change.” These agents are attributed with 80% of the work of spreading an idea while only representing 20% of the population.

These three influencers are:

Connectors – people in a community who know large numbers of people and who are in the habit of making introductions.

Mavens – people we rely upon to connect us with new information.

Salesman – people who can persuade us.

The second thing we need to understand is:

Teenagers in the back of their minds struggle with feelings of loneliness and isolation. And when you factor in these agents of change making suicide appear to be a viable option, you have the environment to tip the scales.

It’s like standing on a street corner, most of us in the back of our mind think about jaywalking. But we hesitate, until we see someone else do it. It gives us “permission” to follow.

When you combine these two factors, ideas have a way of spreading quickly. Even if there is no intention to do so.

The idea virus isn’t the only explanation of why we are where we are (biology, chemicals in the brain, culture…there are a plethora of reasons, some of which are out of our control). But it does offer one of the best explanations of how these ideas continue spread across the masses.

[There is always someone to talk to. In addition, Pivot Adventure helps students develop a compass to navigate through life’s challenges. We are putting an end to the teen suicide epidemic.]