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The Online Environment (Internet) and Suicide

The Online Environment (Internet) and Suicide

Thanks to the Internet, a global communications network, thousands of host servers worldwide are connected, making instantaneous and interactive sharing of information effortless and uncomplicated. But is the ease of access to information necessarily a good thing? There is increasing evidence that the Internet and social media may influence suicide-related behaviour, and hence the freedom of information may do more harm than good. 

 

The Internet and social media have become fundamental in the way many people communicate and share opinions, ideas, and knowledge – alongside a multitude of information on the topic of suicide that is readily available. Social media coverage of celebrity suicide, which is unfortunately on the rise in current times, increases the risk for prosuicide behaviour of vulnerable individuals. One concern is the contagion effect where people are triggered to act as a result of learning of the death or self-harm of others that they identify with or admire. The glamorising of such stories can normalise suicide and present it as acceptable and unproblematic, leading to a rise in imitational suicides. The Internet also provides a source of information for people to obtain how-to descriptions of suicide and lethal ways of killing themselves.

 

But that’s not all there is to it. As we dig deeper, we find that the Internet also allows for cyberbullying, the formation of suicide pacts, and even suicide challenges including the infamous ‘Blue Whale Challenge’ – the Internet’s deadliest suicide game. Youths, in particular, are the ones most vulnerable and susceptible to caving into such pitholes – the very generation that is possibly the most in touch with the Internet. Suicide is the shortcut that a large proportion of people with mental health conditions (e.g. depression) succumb to if they aren’t able to cope well – yet, it isn’t an issue that we address much. To look out for one another, we should try to understand how these pro-suiciders think and act, to help them through their difficulties as fast and as much as possible. 

 

There are mainly two categories of suicidal internet users – “Lower Severity Use” and “Higher Severity Use”. These categorial names refer to the extent to which these individuals use the Internet to find out about the act of self-harm or suicide. People that fall under the “Lower Severity Use” category are usually just conducting “pessimistic browsing” – a stage in which they are still uncertain about suicide, but are distressed enough to want to know more. They mostly navigate through the web haphazardly, trying to find stories or others to whom they can relate. They enter broad search terms, and randomly click on whatever appears at the top of their newsfeed. In summary, these people are still struggling to make sense of their feelings. However, a critical distinction between this group of individuals and the other is that people under “Lower Severity Use” actually flit between prosuicide content and online sources of help. Their uncertainty regarding suicide enables them to be more open to rethinking their actions, be it joining online peer support forums or attaining self-help resources. Perhaps the broad search terms they enter on Google could have also played a part in uncovering various methods of treatment.

 

Unfortunately, this has been proven otherwise for those who fall under the “Higher Severity Use” category. Individuals in this group are much more troubled and perturbed – so much so that they conduct “purposeful researching”, and are no longer as open to receiving online help. These people turn to the Internet to identify, evaluate and choose suicide methods. They research and learn about the effective implementation of each plan, and subsequently acquire the means to carry out the suicide attempt. Part of their research also includes evaluating different factors such as the speed, effectiveness, pain level and technical instructions for them to carry the suicide method. What types of household items can be used for suicide? How much drug constitutes an overdose? What would be the appropriate height to jump to death? Such thoughts fill the heads of these individuals, and the same things are searched up online for them to make a successful suicide attempt. Regrettably, a handful of them also makes use of websites that were never meant to encourage suicide, some of which include professional websites such as WebMD. The published notes on symptoms of overdosage etcetera on such sites could lead some individuals to deduce the amount needed for a successful suicide attempt. This, coupled with the ease of purchasing medications over-the-counter or online, could very well lead to undesirable consequences. 

 

You might wonder, is there a link between the two categories? The answer is yes. Many a time, people start with “pessimistic browsing” before they move on to “purposeful researching”. The decision and will to pursue the act of suicide comes during the transition from former to the latter. The haphazard online navigation, or what was once considered rather “purposeless”, could become addictive. These sensitive and vulnerable individuals could find themselves roped into a cult of negativity, being enticed and increasingly drawn to the provoking and graphic content online. Subconsciously, they will start searching things up more frequently, and their suicidal thoughts and motive escalate. Eventually, they will find themselves under the “Higher Severity Use” category.

 

Above all, we should be concerned with protecting our loved ones. If we sense that a friend or family member is contemplating suicide or is vulnerable to the suicide-promoting influences of the Internet, seek help from a professional i.e. a counsellor, a psychotherapist or psychologist, immediately. As time passes, there is a higher chance that their initial help-seeking thoughts will be displaced. They will start validating their self-harm and suicidal thoughts and will expose themselves to more suicide content. Suicide isn’t okay, and should not be portrayed as an acceptable response to distress or difficulties. Never downplay the seriousness of suicide and delay help. Trust me; You will be doing anyone at-risk a vital service by persuading them to seek professional assistance.

 


 

References:

Dr Lucy Biddle, 2019, Tackling Challenges of the Online Environment and Suicide-related Internet Use, video recording, Mental Health Academy <https://www.mentalhealthacademy.co.uk/dashboard/catalogue/tackling-challenges-of-the-online-environment-and-suicide-related-internet-use>.   (Accessed 16/06/2020)

Photo by Oleg Magni on Unsplash

 

Myth Busting Teen Mental Health – Self-Harm

Debunking myths about adolescent mental healthviolence-self-harm

Although society has made some headway in reducing the stigma and misinformation about general mental health issues, the public’s understanding of self-harm remains decades behind. Let’s debunk some common myths about adolescent self-harm.

Myth: ‘Self-harm means cutting right? Only emos and goths do that.’

Self-harm refers to a range of behaviours that are purposely inflicted to cause damage to the body. It can include cutting, but also refers to scratching, picking at wounds, burning, pinching, hitting, head banging, and minor overdosing. Self-harm can also be in the form of excessive risk-taking that is above and beyond typical adolescent risk-taking.

It is a misconception that only ’emos’ and ‘goths’ self-harm. Although self-harm can be part of adolescent subculture experimentation, it is more often a sign that a teenager is experiencing unmanageable distress. Self-harm becomes a way of coping with distress that provides temporary relief from emotional pain.

Myth: ‘Self-harm is all about attention-seeking. If a person was really depressed enough to cut themselves then they would probably just commit suicide.’

Self-harm is not about attention-seeking. It is often a secretive and private behaviour. For a teenager, self-harm is a way of coping with unmanageable distress, and can be a medium to communicate that distress to others. Self-harm should never be dismissed as attention-seeking.

A person who cuts themselves is not necessarily suicidal. Cutting behaviour can be suicidal, non-suicidal, or a mix of both. It is important to remember that suicide risk is not static. A teenager who displays non-suicidal self-harm can become suicidal at another point in time.

Any teen who self-harms should undergo a thorough and comprehensive suicide risk assessment by a registered mental health professional. Their suicide risk should be closely monitored and assessed at regular intervals.

Myth: ‘I can punish my teen so that they stop self-harming. That will solve the problem.’

Punishing a teen for self-harming does not solve the problem. Cutting is a symptom of a deeper issue – unmanageable distress. Stopping the cutting via punishment may actually worsen their distress, especially if the teen lacks healthy and effective coping strategies.

Here are some suggestions for what you can do instead of punishing your teen:

  • Be an active listener
  • Validating their feelings
  • Be emotionally and physically present for them
  • Engage in joint problem solving

Always seek advice from a registered child psychologist if you suspect that your teen may be self-harming.

Written by Leeran Gold, Psychologist in our Forensic Service.

At Promises Healthcare, we are committed to helping you through your journey to recovery. Discover a new life and find renewed hope. If you or someone you know needs mental health support, please contact our clinic for inquiries and consultations.

For after-hours crisis support contact your local mental health service or emergency services.

In Singapore: IMH 24-hour helpline +65 6389 2222, Ambulance 995.

Myth Busting Mental Health – Youth Suicide

Myth Busting Mental Health – Youth Suicide

youth-suicideLet’s take a look at some common mental health myths about youth suicide and set the record straight.

Attempted suicides are just a cry for attention.

A suicide attempt should never be dismissed as ‘just a cry for attention’. A young person is highlighting that their level of internal distress is unmanageable and unbearable. They need help, not judgement. A young person can feel even more isolated and misunderstood if those around them fail to take their actions seriously. Never ignore or minimise suicidal behaviours and seek professional help as soon as possible.

Teens who cut their wrists must be suicidal.

Cutting is a form of self-injury that can either be suicidal or non-suicidal. In both cases, the cutting is a sign that a young person is not managing their internal distress in a healthy way. Any young person who self-injures should undergo a full suicide risk assessment by a registered mental health professional.

If I ask a young person whether they are feeling suicidal, it might put the idea in their head.

This is a particularly dangerous myth as it discourages discussion of the issue at hand. Talking about suicidal feelings will not encourage a young person to commit suicide. When having the conversation try to stay calm and non-confrontational. Remain open and genuine, and remember the overall message – it is ok to talk about feelings, and there is help available. Show that you care and avoid judging the young person. If you are uncomfortable or unsure about having the conversation, get in touch with a mental health professional for some tips and guidance.

Written by Leeran Gold, Psychologist in our Forensic Service.

At Promises Healthcare, we are committed to helping you through your journey to recovery. Discover a new life, away from addiction and find renewed hope. If you or someone you know needs mental health support, please contact us today for inquiries and consultations.

For after-hours crisis support contact your local mental health service or emergency services.

In Singapore: IMH 24-hour helpline +65 6389 2222, Ambulance 995.

Self-Harm Series – Part 3 –

Self-Harm Series – Part 3 –

What can I do to help my teen?
In addition to regular professional mental health support, here are some things you can do to help your teen:
– Show that you care
– Be non-judgmental
– Accept your teen’s feelings
– Suggest distractions
– Learn basic first aid
– Encourage them to communicate their feelings
– Ensure an authoritative balance in your parenting style

Avoid:
– Guilt trips
– Punishing your teen for self-harm

What can the school do to support my teen?
Ask to see your school’s policy on self-harm management. If your school does not have a policy, get in touch with your treating psychologist who can provide the school with resources and psycho-education. Make sure the school counselor sees your teen regularly, and that they are aware of any safety and risk issues.

If you suspect that your teen is self-harming, seek professional help as soon as possible. Contact Promises Healthcare for a confidential enquiry today.

If your teen is in any danger, contact your local ambulance service on 995. You can contact the Institute for Mental Health 24-hour hotline on 6389-2222.

This is part 3, of a series of 3 posts        Click here for Part 1     Click here for Part 2

Written by: Leeran Gold – Psychologist, Forensic Services, Promises Healthcare

Self-Harm Series – Part 2 –

Self-Harm Series – Part 2 –

Self-Harm

How do I know if my teen is self-harming?
Self-harming is usually a very private and secretive behavior. Teens may self-harm on areas of their bodies that are difficult to see. In some cases, teens may self-harm in more obvious areas including their wrists, ankles, arms and legs.
If you notice dressing or bandages, or cuts, bruises, burns and/or marks in these areas, your teen may be self-harming.
Other signs can include withdrawing from friends and family, excessive moodiness, increased irritability and anger outbursts, and changes in appetite and body weight.

Why is my teen self-harming?
Teens may self-harm in order to cope with stress. Self-harm can temporarily numb or relieve their distress, and can be a way of communicating their distress to others. Teens who self-harm often lack healthy coping strategies and feel helpless in managing their distress.

If your teen is self-harming, or you suspect that they are, seek professional help and contact Promises Healthcare for a confidential enquiry as soon as possible.

If your teen is in any danger, you can contact your local ambulance service on 995. You can contact the Institute for Mental Health 24-hour hotline on 6389-2222.

This is part 2, of a series of 3 posts         Click here for Part 1 

Written by: Leeran Gold – Psychologist, Forensic Services, Promises Healthcare