Wednesday 16 December 2015

Don't give up

Appreciating that the subject matter of today's post might not necessarily align with the season that is upon us, I wanted to bring to your attention the paper by Michael Westerlund and colleagues [1] (open-access) and some rather disturbing discussions related to a young man who "decided to hang himself and to display the suicidal act" on an internet forum.

Published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, the paper set about examining how "participants on an internet forum act and react faced with suicidal communication and while witnessing the suicidal act." This was done via "a qualitative investigation of the messages that were posted before the TS's [thread starter] suicide and a combined qualitative–quantitative analysis of the messages posted during and after the suicide." A total of 30 posts before the suicide and 608 posts during and after the suicide were examined.

Several themes are discussed in the paper in terms of the authenticity of the discussions, attitudes towards the suicide, opportunities for prevention and: "Responsibility for the TS's suicide." There are some, quite frankly, awful comments discussed in this paper that I won't be repeating on this blog. Importantly however, the authors highlight a few lessons that might be learned from such events based on the fact that "the internet has developed as the main channel for suicide communication" and the possibility that lives could be potentially saved with the right tools for identifying and responding to "individuals who communicate suicide intentions on different forums on the internet." As per another quote from the paper: "the internet can be a facilitator of the suicidal process, but it can also be a venue where opportunities for prevention of suicide loom large."

Although not the main topic of this blog, suicide is something that has cropped up before (see here and see here for example). It is a complicated issue to talk about given that not only are there multiple pathways that bring someone to the position of contemplating taking their own life but also that attempted and completed acts can and do profoundly affect the people around the person in question.

The idea that the internet can be a source of positive information when it comes to reducing the risk of suicide is evident in the peer-reviewed domain [2]. Sueki & Ito [3] discussed the idea of on-line gatekeeping to prevent suicide "by placing advertisements on web search pages to promote consultation service use among Internet users with suicidal ideation." Social media has also been discussed as a good tool to deliver "a range of suicide prevention activities" [4]. The trick, it seems, is getting the relevant information and expertise to those who are currently vulnerable whilst at the same time avoiding issues like possible contagion. I might add that whilst the internet might have a significant role to play in suicide, it does not and should not represent the sum total of discussions about suicide and any potentially related issues (see here).

Bearing in mind the caveats of this blog about not giving medical or clinical advice, I did wonder if it might be useful to link to something like this page containing quite a few points and further links if and when discussions about suicide are raised. For anyone here in Blighty in need, details for the Samaritans can also be found here.

A song to close from Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel.


[1] Westerlund M. et al. Case study of posts before and after a suicide on a Swedish internet forum. Br J Psychiatry. 2015; 207: 476-482.

[2] Robert A. et al. Internet use and suicidal behaviors: internet as a threat or opportunity? Telemed J E Health. 2015 Apr;21(4):306-11.

[3] Sueki H. & Ito J. Suicide Prevention Through Online Gatekeeping Using Search Advertising Techniques. Crisis. 2015 Jul;36(4):267-73.

[4] Robinson J. et al. Social media and suicide prevention: findings from a stakeholder survey. Shanghai Arch Psychiatry. 2015 Feb 25;27(1):27-35.

---------- Westerlund, M., Hadlaczky, G., & Wasserman, D. (2015). Case study of posts before and after a suicide on a Swedish internet forum The British Journal of Psychiatry, 207 (6), 476-482 DOI: 10.1192/bjp.bp.114.154484

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