”A majority of those that completed suicide have communicated this before in some way. In a suicidal process, the most evident sign is that the person tell others about their thoughts or plans”, says Michael Westerlund at the Department of Media Studies, Stockholm university.

Response is of great importance

Michael Westerlund. Photo: Fredrik Mårtensson.
Michael Westerlund. Photo: Fredrik Mårtensson.

The research team has investigated the responses, attitudes and believes that were communicated on the Swedish internet forum Flashback before, during and after the suicide. Almost half of the comments before the suicide encouraged the man to complete the suicide, and surprisingly many comments expressed excitement, even though around half of the comments considered the suicide a tragic event.

”We know that the way a suicidal individual is responded to is extremely important.  When in a suicide process, the person is often online, discussing the subject”, says Michael Westerlund.

Important to increase awareness

The conclusion from the study is that it is important to increase awareness of suicide signals and understanding about how to respond to individuals who communicate suicide intentions on different forums on the internet. The study suggests that education and training for moderators of internet forums, or managers of other types of interactive websites, may save lives in the future. Another important task may be to raise awareness among clinicians and establish routines for investigating websites visited by suicidal persons.

About the study

“Case study of posts before and after a suicide on a Swedish internet forum” The study can be found online at The British Journal of Psychiatry

The study was made by Michael Westerlund at the Department of Media Studies, Stockholm University, Danuta Wasserman at Karolinska Institutet and Gergö Hadlaczky at Karolinska Institutet.

About suicide

In a global perspective, suicide is today one of the most common causes of death in the world, causing around 700 000 deaths every year. Up to half of all persons completing suicide has communicated their plans. If indirect communication counts, this rises to 60-80 percent.