PURPOSE: Internet use is common among people with suicidal feelings and a considerable amount of suicide help material is available online. Despite attempts to promote formal help sites (e.g. governmental and charity sector) in internet search results, users' evaluation of these sites is lacking. This study, therefore, aimed to explore distressed users' perceptions of formal online help and their experiences of using this in times of crisis.
METHODS: In-depth interview study of 53 adults reporting suicide-related internet use.
RESULTS: While highly valued in relation to general mental health problems, formal sites were not perceived to meet the different needs of those experiencing suicidal thoughts, and did not engage individuals in crisis. Sites were criticised for being impersonal, dispassionate, too focused on information-giving, and lacking solutions that were novel or sensitive to reasons why an individual may choose to seek help online. Most participants criticised the tendency for sites to signpost to offline services as their primary response. Participants desired immediacy and responsive online help incorporating 'live chat', self-help tools, opportunities to interact with others and lived-experience content. Positive accounts of seeking online help described sites incorporating these features.
CONCLUSIONS: Formal online help services should be reappraised to ensure they meet users' needs for immediacy and responsive help to capitalise upon the opportunity available for suicide prevention.