For young people contemplating suicide, the Internet can be a very dangerous place.
Despite numerous websites providing excellent advice about how to find help, there are far too many other sites that actually encourage users to kill themselves. Along with chat rooms and bulletin boards where suicidal ideas and death fantasies can be shared, cases of suicide "voyeurs" who encourage vulnerable people to kill themselves are hardly uncommon. There are also sites providing concrete advice on how to commit suicide including the sale of "suicide kits" as well as instructions on how to make suicides look like accidents. While many of these pro-suicide sites can also provide emotional support, the damage caused by the pro-suicide material vulnerable users come across cannot be underestimated.
One research study looking at young people aged ten to seventeen who are exposed to pro-suicide conversations or images are seven times more likely to have thoughts about killing themselves. Exposure to pro-suicide material can also have an adverse effect on mental health, especially for people experiencing depression. Critics argue that these pro-suicide sites can romanticize suicide and push young people on the edge into carrying out suicidal acts instead of finding professional help. While only a small percentage of hits in an average search for suicide-related material will be to these pro-suicide sites, they are still freely available to anyone motivated to finding them.
To read more, check out my new Psychology Today blog post.