Nav: Home

Suicide prevention: Reacting to the tell-tale signs

October 25, 2016

Can search engines save lives? Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich researchers are working on an approach which would enable search engines to more effectively identify users who are at risk of suicide and provide them with information on where to find help.

Search engine queries not only reveal a lot about the user's interests and predilections, they also contain information relating to their mood or state of health. In response to recommendations by the World Health Organization (WHO), search engines like Google are already responding to search queries containing terms which imply that the user might be contemplating suicide by specifically drawing attention to counseling and other suicide prevention services. "The Internet is playing an increasingly significant role in suicide prevention," says Dr. Florian Arendt of LMU's Department of Communication Science and Media Research (IfKW). Indeed, several studies indicate that suicidal persons can be deterred from taking their lives when reminded of available help resources. In collaboration with his colleague Dr. Sebastian Scherr at the IfKW, Arendt has carried out a study on how the algorithms that search engines use to parse queries might be modified so as to ensure that they more effectively target remedial information to those at risk. The findings of the study recently appeared in the journal Health Communication.

In an earlier study, Arendt and Scherr showed that only 25% of the queries classified by Google as potentially suicide-related lead to the presentation of the Google "suicide prevention result" as recommended by the WHO. "In other words, search engines are not optimally using their potential to help those who are at risk," says Sebastian Scherr. In their latest paper, the two researchers develop an approach which seeks to make better use of the context in which potentially suicide-related search terms appear.

Epidemiological studies repeatedly have shown that suicidal behavior is strongly influenced by environmental factors. This is reflected, for example, by the fact that suicide numbers peak at particular times - for example, on certain family holidays as well as on particular weekdays. Taking the word 'poisoning' as a representative "suicide-related" search term, Arendt and Scherr analyzed temporal patterns of its use in queries submitted to Google. Strikingly, they found that the fraction of queries containing the term peaked exactly on days on which the actual incidence of suicide was particularly high. "This suggests that, on these peak days at least, the thresholds for the dispatch of information related to suicide prevention should be reset," says Scherr. The authors go on to propose that the corresponding algorithms should be regularly updated in response to new research findings, in order to take objective factors that increase the risk of suicide more effectively into account. By modifying their settings accordingly, Google and other search engines could make an even greater contribution to suicide prevention, the researchers conclude. "In this context, providers of search engines have a specific social responsibility," says Arendt.
-end-


Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München

Related Suicide Articles:

Does religion protect against suicide?
Religious participation is linked to lower suicide rates in many parts of the world, including the United States and Russia, but does not protect against the risk of suicide in sections of Europe and Asia, finds new research by a Michigan State University scholar.
Children at increased risk of suicide
Teenagers injured through drinking, drug abuse or self-harming have a five-fold increased risk of dying from suicide in the next decade.
Young cancer survivors have twice the risk of suicide
Survivors of cancer diagnosed before the age of 25 had a more than two-fold increased risk of suicide compared to their non-cancer peers.
Suicide prevention: Reacting to the tell-tale signs
Can search engines save lives? Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich researchers are working on an approach which would enable search engines to more effectively identify users who are at risk of suicide and provide them with information on where to find help.
Canada needs a national suicide prevention strategy
Canada needs a national suicide prevention strategy, and it should be included in the 2017 federal budget, argues an editorial in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).
How to reduce US firearm suicide rates?
Reducing firearm access, smart gun technology, and public education could reduce firearm suicides in the United States, finds a new report from Columbia University and New York State Psychiatric Institute.
Arthritis linked to suicide attempts
One in every 26 men with arthritis have attempted suicide compared to one in 50 men without arthritis.
Two in 5 individuals with schizophrenia have attempted suicide
A new study by the University of Toronto (U of T), released today, found that those with schizophrenia who'd been physically abused during childhood were five times more likely to have attempted suicide.
Victimized adolescents more at risk of thinking about suicide or attempting suicide at 15
A study to be published in the February 2016 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry reports that adolescents chronically victimized during at least two school years, are about five times more at risk of thinking about suicide and six times more at risk of attempting suicide at 15 years compared to those who were never victimized.
1 in 10 suicide attempt risk among friends and relatives of people who die by suicide
People bereaved by the sudden death of a friend or family member are 65 percent more likely to attempt suicide if the deceased died by suicide than if they died by natural causes.

Related Suicide Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Bias And Perception
How does bias distort our thinking, our listening, our beliefs... and even our search results? How can we fight it? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas about the unconscious biases that shape us. Guests include writer and broadcaster Yassmin Abdel-Magied, climatologist J. Marshall Shepherd, journalist Andreas Ekström, and experimental psychologist Tony Salvador.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#513 Dinosaur Tails
This week: dinosaurs! We're discussing dinosaur tails, bipedalism, paleontology public outreach, dinosaur MOOCs, and other neat dinosaur related things with Dr. Scott Persons from the University of Alberta, who is also the author of the book "Dinosaurs of the Alberta Badlands".