Celebrity suicides may render online support group ineffective

New York, Sep 25 (IANS) Even among people who use social media suicide support forums, the number of suicides or attempted suicides go up after the media covers a celebrity’s suicide, say researchers, including one of Indian-origin.

The researchers focused on “SuicideWatch, a widely adopted suicide support forum on the popular social networking and news site Reddit.

It features entries from people looking for support and guidance from experienced, trained moderators and anonymous social media users volunteering to extend help to those in need.

Activity on this forum changes dramatically in the aftermath of celebrity suicides, the findings showed.

Instead of reaching out to others for support against suicidal thoughts, Redditors show expressions that indicate increased and explicit suicidal tendencies, the study noted.

“People come to this site with hope to fight thoughts of self-destruction,” said co-lead researcher Munmun De Choudhury, assistant professor at Georgia Institute of Technology in the US.

“They are looking for help. But the pleas of support changed to hopelessness and despair,” De Choudhury noted.

The researchers looked at nearly 66,000 posts from 19,000 unique users from October 2013 to December 2014.

The researchers noticed how language changed in the weeks before and after 10 celebrity suicides, including the 2014 death of comedian Robin Williams.

For example, posts prior to suicides included “maybe I should just do it” and “I need some help…I feel I am right on the edge.”

Afterward, phrases were often along the lines of “It will be one more week and I’ll be done” and “I’ll be ending it this weekend.”

“Redditors tended to be more inwardly focused after celebrity suicide,” study co-leader Mark Dredze from Johns Hopkins University said.

“They wrote less about other people. Posts about family and friends shifted to ‘I’ and ‘me.’ We saw more self-disclosure and sadness,” Dredze said.

The study was presented at the Association for Computing Machinery’s 26th conference on hypertext and social media in Cyprus.

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