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Suicide Data on Web Mostly Not Preventive

British study finds Internet searches provide more on 'how to' than 'how to prevent'

THURSDAY, April 10, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- A new British study says that people surfing the Web for information about suicide are more likely to find sites that encourage the act rather than offering help and support.

Researchers from the universities of Bristol, Oxford and Manchester entered a dozen search terms, one at a time, into each of the four most popular Internet search engines to try to replicate how someone might look for information about how to commit suicide. They then analyzed the first 10 results turned up by each search -- 480 results in total.

The findings, published in the April 12 issue of BMJ, included 240 different sites, just under half of which offered information about methods of suicide. Almost a fifth of all the studied search engine results were sites dedicated to suicide, and half of those appeared to encourage, promote or facilitate killing oneself.

Only 62 sites, or 13 percent, were geared more toward suicide prevention or offering support. Just 59 sites actively discouraged suicide.

Information about committing suicide was found not only on almost all of the dedicated suicide and factual information sites but also on 21 percent of the support and prevention sites as well as 55 percent of academic or policy sites. All news reports of suicides in the study also provided information about methods.

The three sites that appeared most frequently during the Internet searches -- conducted using the Google, Yahoo, MSN and Ask.com search engines -- were all pro-suicide. The information site Wikipedia was fourth most popular. All four sites evaluated methods of suicide, including detailed information about speed, certainty and the likely amount of pain associated with each method.

The study authors concluded that service providers might try using Web site optimization strategies to improve the chances that suicide prevention and support sites show up higher in the results list when people seek information about suicide methods.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about suicide prevention.

SOURCE: BMJ, news release, April 10, 2008
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