Teens that are at risk for suicide and self-harm may increase that risk when using the internet, report researchers from Oxford University. An analysis of 14 studies on internet use shows that the internet normalizes self-harm and provides graphic content about suicide, according to a study published in PLOS ONE on October 30.
“We are not saying that all young people who go on the internet increase their risk of suicide or self-harm. We are talking about vulnerable young people who are going online specifically to find out more about harming themselves or because they are considering suicide already,” said co-author Paul Montgomery. Notably, the research team did not find any connection between the use of social networks and an increased risk of suicide or self-harm.
Researchers reviewed data on internet usage by young people from fourteen studies. The authors note that some studies report that young people felt supported and less isolated when using internet forums. The researchers also report some alarming findings from these studies including:
- one study in which 59 percent of young people had researched suicide online
- a study where 80 percent of teenagers, who had committed serious self-harm, had researched the topic on the internet
- a group of young people in which 73 percent who self-harmed by cutting had researched how to do it online
The authors emphasized the potential of using the internet to help vulnerable teenagers. “Communication via the internet and other electronic means has potential roles in both contributing to and preventing suicidal behavior in young people. We are only now beginning to realize the extent of these possible influences and this review is a contribution to this knowledge. The next step is going to be development of therapeutic interventions using these channels of communication, especially to access those who do not seek help from clinical services,” said co-author Keith Hawton. They also recommend that any clinical assessment of teenagers includes questions about internet usage.
Researchers also found that:
- online bullying increases the risk of self-harm for bullying victims
- internet addiction can increase risk of self-harm, depression and suicidal thoughts
The study, "The Power of the Web: A Systematic Review of Studies of the Influence of the Internet on Self-Harm and Suicide in Young People," is published in the online journal PLOS ONE.
Information about risk factors and warning signs for suicide is available from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The National Association of School Psychologists provides information for parents and teachers about suicide prevention. Information specifically relating to teenagers is available from the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide.
WebMD has information and tips for parents regarding monitoring their children's online activity.
The Samaritans have a specific Helpline, 1 800 252 TEEN (8336), set up to support teens.