New project investigates the internet's impact on suicide

February 19, 2014
New project investigates the internet's impact on suicide

Researchers at the University of Bristol are joining forces with Samaritans to carry out groundbreaking research into the role the internet plays for those with suicidal thoughts.

It is the first time this hugely important issue will be researched by talking to people with actual experience of using the internet when they were feeling suicidal.

The announcement comes amid growing concern that the internet is playing an increasing role for those experiencing suicidal feelings. The media has highlighted a number of cases where it is claimed that suicides have been heavily influenced by online content in various self-harm and suicide-related websites and social networking forums.

Others maintain that the internet can provide a space where those with can express their feelings and find support. Attempting to shut down websites or ban content could drive discussion underground, exacerbate the stigma and taboo already associated with suicide and criminalise vulnerable people.

This research, funded by the Department of Health Policy Research Programme, aims to find out what the actual risks and benefits of the internet might be to people with suicidal feelings and how often it plays a role in . By combining academic research with Samaritans' experience of delivering services and user-involvement, the project will make a vital practical difference to those at risk of suicide.

The provision of the necessary evidence to identify both harmful and positive content will assist in the development of 'good practice' guidelines, better regulation and policy. The project will also pinpoint specific sites that require urgent action.

The research team plan to use their findings to provide evidence-based advice on in order to influence the , advise policy makers, develop online support, and assist clinicians in supporting patients.

By using surveys, interviews with those who have been suicidal and those bereaved by suicide, talking to clinicians and reviews of on-line material, the research will explore:

  • How, why, and when people who are feeling suicidal use related content online
  • How common the use of this online material is and the impact it has on suicidal behaviour
  • The characteristics of people more likely to turn to the internet when they are vulnerable
  • The range of suicide-related content online (including support materials) and how this is interpreted and used by people.

The project is due to last until March 2016 and will see the Bristol University team, led by Dr Lucy Biddle in the School of Social and Community Medicine, work in partnership with Samaritans.

Dr Biddle said: "The internet poses considerable challenges for suicide prevention. It provides readily accessible information that may increase the risk of suicide and allows an immediate exchange of unregulated user-generated content through social media and chatrooms.

"Regulating and policing this is extremely challenging. A more effective approach may be to try to understand why and where people go online so that we can direct our efforts at supporting vulnerable web-users and working with the industry. As part of this we should recognise and capitalise upon the great potential the Internet has to reach out to and help those in need. This essential research is long overdue."

Drawing on 60 years of experience, one of Samaritans' key contributions will be organising and analysing a series of in-depth qualitative interviews with people who have turned to the when they were struggling to cope.

Joe Ferns, Executive Director of Policy, Research & Development at Samaritans, said: "This is a crucial piece of research. Until now politicians, journalists and campaigners have been debating in a vacuum, with insufficient hard evidence to support or refute their views. The findings of this project will be turned into practical actions, helping us understand how to best support our callers in the future. They will also inform the debate both here in the UK and around the world."

Explore further: How the Internet affects young people at risk of self-harm or suicide

Related Stories

How the Internet affects young people at risk of self-harm or suicide

October 30, 2013
Oxford researchers have found internet forums provide a support network for socially isolated young people. However, they also conclude that the internet is linked to an increased risk of suicide and self-harm among vulnerable ...

The influence of the internet on suicidal behavior

October 10, 2011
A recent study by the University of Otago, Wellington into internet pro-suicide and support sites indicates that significant improvements need to be made in this area to help prevent suicidal behavior.

More than half a million California adults think seriously about committing suicide, study reveals

December 20, 2012
(Medical Xpress)—More than half a million adults in California seriously thought about committing suicide during the previous year, according to a new study from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.

Drug abusers at risk for suicidal thoughts, survey finds

January 16, 2014
(HealthDay)—American adults who use illicit drugs are much more likely to think about suicide than those in the general population, a new federal government survey says.

Research finds bullies and victims three times more likely to have suicidal thoughts by age 11

February 29, 2012
as both a victim and a bully – are three times more likely to have suicidal thoughts by the time they reach 11 years old, according to research from the University of Warwick.

Recommended for you

Talking to yourself can help you control stressful emotions

July 26, 2017
The simple act of silently talking to yourself in the third person during stressful times may help you control emotions without any additional mental effort than what you would use for first-person self-talk – the way people ...

Heart rate study tests emotional impact of Shakespeare

July 26, 2017
In a world where on-screen violence has become commonplace, Britain's Royal Shakespeare Company is turning to science to discover whether the playwright can still make our hearts race more than 400 years on.

Do all people experience similar near-death-experiences?

July 26, 2017
No one really knows what happens when we die, but many people have stories to tell about what they experienced while being close to death. People who have had a near-death-experience usually report very rich and detailed ...

Risk for bipolar disorder associated with faster aging

July 26, 2017
New King's College London research suggests that people with a family history of bipolar disorder may 'age' more rapidly than those without a history of the disease.

Visual clues we use during walking and when we use them

July 25, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A trio of researchers with the University of Texas and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has discovered which phase of visual information processing during human walking is used most to guide the feet accurately. ...

Toddlers begin learning rules of reading, writing at very early age, study finds

July 25, 2017
Even the proudest of parents may struggle to find some semblance of meaning behind the seemingly random mish-mash of letters that often emerge from a toddler's first scribbled and scrawled attempts at putting words on paper.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.