With suicide ranking as one of the top three causes of death in the 15-44 age group in many countries, the role that the media plays, especially in cases of “copycat” suicides following high-profile deaths, is still a contentious subject. And that is particularly true with the rise of the Internet and the numerous “suicide sites” providing information on effective methods of committing suicide. Along with providing information suicide methods, some sites even include discussion forums and chatrooms for “suicide groupies” to discuss suicide and even encourage susceptible people to kill themselves when they might have sought help instead.
In one grim example of the potential effect of online suicide sites, William Melchert-Dinkel was convicted in 2011 of two counts of encouraging people to commit suicide, one in Britain in 2005 and another in Canada in 2008. Melchert-Dinkel, a licensed nurse and father of two, pleaded guilty to posing as a depressed woman on suicide chatrooms to encourage vulnerable people to commit suicide. Though he was only convicted of two deaths, he admitted to encouraging dozens of people to kill themselves, often by falsely entering into suicide pacts with them.
But what is the real impact of online suicide sites? Although the Internet has become the primary source of information for most young people, how the proliferation of suicide information sites, forums, and chatrooms increases the likelihood of suicide is still not well-understood. While some researchers warn of the danger of these sites producing suicide clusters, others suggest that they may actually reduce suicide risk by providing potentially suicidal people with a support network they might otherwise lack.
To read more, check out my new Psychology Today post.