Suicide Watch: reddit and suicide

Some of the traditional methods for suicide prevention in the past several decades have consisted of therapeutic programs, medications, and suicide hotlines. Suicide hotlines have been a key part of the suicide prevention phenomenon in the United States and the Western world and are also part of the public conceptualization of the suicide problem (with them being a theme or topic of television series episodes). The suicide hotline model is an important one and not unusual that it has been somewhat reshaped to fit the internet.

The popular online discussion board reddit has a ‘subreddit’ called Suicide Watch, which allows users to submit their stories and receive advice and support from other members of the website. The site is not just for people contemplating or planning to commit suicide but is also open to discussion for individuals who are worried about loved ones and would like advice for how to go about getting them help and saving their lives. To ensure the safety and protection of their user base the moderators of the subreddit have installed guidelines for posting and replying on Suicide Watch. These can be seen on the right side of the forum when browsing through threads or reading through individual comments and responses. The emphasis on no “abuse, pro-suicide comments, tough love” and the espousal of “non-judgmental peer support” are key parts of the suicide prevention dogma.

I know we have discussed (at least in my discussion group) how anonymity of the internet can promote bullying and thus suicide or other violent actions. But in the case of Suicide Watch on reddit, the anonymity of the internet lifts barriers of fear that would have otherwise prevented individuals from seeking the help they so dearly required. Opening and reading some of the various threads that have been posted on Suicide Watch is somewhat saddening, but also very touching to see the amount of care and effort people will put into helping others to whom they have no personal connection beyond being members of the same discussion board.

Beyond the mental health advocacy groups and suicide hotlines and psychiatric clinics in the United States, the internet, in this case reddit, represents a new frontier for suicide prevention, as well as support for other issues like depression and self-harm (which are covered by subreddits listed as related by the moderators of Suicide Watch).

Here is the link to Suicide Watch in case you wish to read some of the threads and see how an online community is reacting to suicidality: http://www.reddit.com/r/suicidewatch. I think a lot of the stories speak for themselves.

One response to “Suicide Watch: reddit and suicide

  1. There must be a whole technological genealogy here to be unpacked. If, as Will suggests, the “hotline” is a central trope of suicide prevention, how were such groups operating before telephones became widely accessible and cheap to use? We might also wonder about the effects of “democratizing” suicide prevention through discussions boards–this latest iteration in the technology of the hotline. What are the benefits and dangers of permitting the untrained to comment on posts from people struggling with questions about suicide? Certainly the boards creators have tried to buffer the dangers by creating a code for participants, but we may still wonder about the wisdom of non-professionals’ participation in what by any measure is a sensitive situation. Finally, I wonder how shifts in technology might unintentionally alter messages. It is notoriously difficult to read emotion from text, for example. What sort of challenges does this present for the deployment of this technology in suicide intervention?

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