Exposure to, and searching for, information about suicide and self-harm on the Internet: Prevalence and predictors in a population based cohort of young adults

Becky Mars, Jon E Heron, Lucy A Biddle, Jenny L Donovan, Rachel G Holley, Martyn Piper, John P Potokar, Clare Wyllie, David Gunnell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)

30 Citations (Scopus)
353 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

Background

There is concern over the potential impact of the Internet on self-harm and suicidal behaviour, particularly in young people. However, little is known about the prevalence and patterns of suicide/self-harm related Internet use in the general population.


Methods

Cross sectional study of 3946 of the 8525 participants in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) who were sent a self-report questionnaire including questions on suicide/self-harm related Internet use and self-harm history at age 21 years.


Results

Suicide/self-harm related Internet use was reported by 22.5% (886/3946) of participants; 11.9% (470/3946) had come across sites/chatrooms discussing self-harm or suicide, 8.2% (323/3946) had searched for information about self-harm, 7.5% (296/3946) had searched for information about suicide and 9.1% (357/3946) had used the Internet to discuss self-harm or suicidal feelings. Suicide/self-harm related Internet use was particularly prevalent amongst those who had harmed with suicidal intent (70%, 174/248), and was strongly associated with the presence of suicidal thoughts, suicidal plans, and history of self-harm. Sites offering help, advice, or support were accessed by a larger proportion of the sample (8.2%, 323/3946) than sites offering information on how to hurt or kill yourself (3.1%, 123/3946). Most individuals (81%) who had accessed these potentially harmful sites had also accessed help sites.


Limitations

(i) There were differences between questionnaire responders and non-responders which could lead to selection bias and (ii) the data were cross-sectional, and we cannot conclude that associations are causal.


Conclusions

Suicide/self-harm related Internet use is common amongst young adults, particularly amongst those with suicidal thoughts and behaviour. Both harmful and helpful sites were accessed, highlighting that the Internet presents potential risks but also offers opportunities for suicide prevention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)239-245
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Volume185
Early online date12 Jun 2015
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2015

Bibliographical note

Date of Acceptance: 02/06/2015

Structured keywords

  • Centre for Surgical Research

Keywords

  • ALSPAC
  • Internet
  • Self-harm
  • Suicide attempt
  • Suicide

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