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Samaritans to focus on effect of the internet on people with suicidal thoughts

A new study, in connection with Bristol University, is to look at how people use content online when experiencing suicidal thoughts.

Image: girl with phone via Shutterstock

THE EFFECT OF online content and activities on people with suicidal thoughts is to be the subject of a major collaboration between Samaritans and Bristol University.

The research is to look at the growing role it plays in the lives of people who are feeling suicidal, and will be funded by the British Department of Health.

It is hoped the study will assist in developing “good practice guidelines”.

“The internet poses considerable challenges for suicide prevention”, Dr Lucy Biddle from Bristol University said, calling the research ‘long overdue’.

“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.”

In Ireland, concerns were raised regarding the effect of online bullying after two teenagers took their own lives within two months of each other in 2012.

Ask.fm

Erin Gallagher (13) was found dead a day after posting messages online lashing out at people who abused her through anonymous question website Ask.fm.

The month previous, Ciara Pugsley (15) took her own life and a Garda investigation was launched into messages left on her Ask.fm page.

Colleagues of the late Minister of State Shane McEntee commented that the minister may have been upset in the weeks leading up to his suicide due to negative comments about him on social media websites.

However, others have highlighted the positive role the internet can play for people experiencing suicidal thoughts.

Irish charity Turn2Me offers an online counselling service and support forums.

‘Crucial’ research

Director of Policy, Research and Development at Samaritans Joe Ferns described the research as ‘crucial’.

“Until now politicians, journalists and campaigners have been debating in a vacuum, with insufficient hard evidence to support or refute their views,” he said.

He said that the findings will be turned into ‘practical actions’, helping them to provide support to those who contact the charity in future.

In a statement, Samaritans outlined the four areas that clinicians will be examining:

  • 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 study will run until March 2016.

Helplines:

  • Samaritans 1850 60 90 90 or email jo@samaritans.org

  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634

  • Console 1800 201 890

  • Aware 1890 303 302

  • Pieta House 01 601 0000 or email mary@pieta.ie

  • Childline 1800 66 66 66

Column: Politicians should engage in social media, not regulate it >

Read: Erin Gallagher’s grandfather calls for teacher and pupil education on bullying >

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Nicky Ryan

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