We Need To Change The Way We Talk About Suicide Online, According To A Youth Mental Health Organisation. Here Are The New Guidelines
For a start, we need to scrap the term "commit suicide".
Orygen, the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, has published the world's first ethical guidelines for how to talk about suicide safely online.
Called #chatsafe, the guidelines are designed to ensure safe and ethical online conversations for people who are posting or responding to suicide-related content on social media.
The guidelines include directions to suicide prevention resources on Facebook (such as the Suicide Prevention Help Centre), Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter.
Their guidelines also include language considerations to avoid stigmatisation or idealisation of suicide, such as saying "died by suicide" instead of implying a crime with the term "committed suicide", and avoiding the terms "successful" or "unsuccessful" when discussing attempts.
Orygen recommends reporting or hiding content that might exacerbate suicidal thoughts for other users, such as means or methods of suicide, suicide plans, graphic images, and graphic descriptions of suicide.
Dr Jo Robinson, head of suicide prevention research at Orygen, told BuzzFeed News that online conversations about suicide can actually be useful for teenagers and young adults who are struggling, but that there are risks that need to be addressed.
"We know that social media is an important source of help for young people...there's an important sense of community and important source of peer to peer support for young people that are having a tough time, so we didn't want to shut those conversations down", she said.
"What we really wanted to do was empower young people to have those conversations safely."
Robinson says that even though there may be apprehension about suicide being discussed on social media at all, the "horse has bolted" and now it is just a matter of trying to make sure those conversations are helpful.
Dr Bridianne O'Dea, a research fellow from the Black Dog Institute and expert in suicide prevention, believes that the Orygen guidelines will provide helpful information that can reduce harm online.
"These guidelines offer a consensus from experts in the field and are one example of how we can upskill the community in talking appropriately about suicide."
There is still little agreement in scientific studies as to whether social media posting and communities can help or exacerbate mental health issues.
One 2012 study found that descriptions of suicide, suicide pacts, and extreme online communities present a "pro-suicide" risk for vulnerable young people online. However a 2016 study concluded that online posting can help to prevent youth suicides.
The authors found that people with "serious mental illness report benefits from interacting with peers online with greater social connectedness, feelings of group belonging and by sharing personal stories and strategies for coping".
The Black Dog Institute published research last month that found Twitter users who post suicide-related content appear to receive a significantly faster reply compared to other Tweets.
The researchers found 62% of replies were potentially helpful, suggesting that social media networks are capable of providing some mental health support.
O'Dea believes the Orygen guidelines address both the risks and benefits of sharing suicide-related content online.
"We do know that the stigma surrounding suicide and mental illness stops people from seeking help and the internet can play an important role in this," she said. "We also know that sharing explicit details about suicidal actions can endanger others. The sensitive nature of this area highlights the importance of ongoing research."
The Orygen guidelines are intended to mirror the media's ethical practice guidelines when discussing suicide.
The suggestions were drafted through a literature review and consultation process with both suicide prevention experts and a panel of teenagers and young adults who use social media.
The guidelines will be rolled out in partnership with Facebook over the next year with a videos and animations campaign to target young adult and teenage audiences online.
If you need to talk to someone, you can call Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue Australia on 1300 22 4636. Anxiety UK on 08444 775 774, or Hopeline America on 1-800-784-2433.