New Scientific and Social Media Tools for Preventing Suicide

Man standing in light between wallsIn the wake of a large increase in suicides, researchers are trying to find methods to prevent suicide in vulnerable people. Social media platforms such as Facebook are also contributing by devising proactive tools for suicide prevention.

In April, researchers from the National Center for Health Statistics reported suicide rates are at a 30-year high. Some groups saw greater increases than others. Though men continue to die by suicide at higher rates than women, the suicide rate among white women climbed by 60%. American Indians and Alaska Natives had the highest overall increase in suicide rates (89%).

Research Efforts to Identify Suicide Predictors

Several studies have established risk factors for suicide, including research pointing to the role of health problems, bereavement, and bullying in child suicides. However, risk factors for suicide are often broad, or they involve demographic factors such as being male.

Reliable predictors remain elusive. A 2010 study found trained clinicians were no better than chance at predicting which emergency room patients would attempt suicide within the next six months.

To end the uncertainty, some researchers have begun looking for biomarkers for suicide, such as sleep patterns, brain activity on functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans, and stress hormones in the blood. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has launched a study that will explore these and other biomarkers in 170 people, some of whom have previously attempted suicide.

Though research does not yet point to reliable suicide risk factors, some patterns have emerged. For example, the NIMH group studying suicide recently found people with a history of depression who are generally awake between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. seem to have increased suicidal thoughts on the following day.

Facebook Aims to Prevent Suicide

Some social media platforms are using their wide reach to combat suicide. Facebook continues to refine its outreach strategy, offering tools to people who fear a friend might be experiencing thoughts of suicide. Users can flag posts for quick review, and are then given the option to directly message the friend. After a brief review, Facebook sends a message to the flagged user offering options for help, such as talking to a friend, calling a hotline, or getting online tips.

References:

  1. Isaac, M. (2016, June 14). Facebook offers tools for those who fear a friend may be suicidal. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/15/technology/facebook-offers-tools-for-those-who-fear-a-friend-may-be-suicidal.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fhealth&_r=0
  2. Nock, M. K., Park, J. M., Finn, C. T., Deliberto, T. L., Dour, H. J., & Banaji, M. R. (2010). Measuring the suicidal mind: Implicit cognition predicts suicidal behavior. Psychological Science, 21(4), 511-517. doi:10.1177/0956797610364762
  3. Petersen, A. (2016, June 7). As suicide rates rise, scientists find new warning signs. Retrieved from http://www.wsj.com/articles/as-suicide-rates-rise-scientists-find-new-warning-signs-1465235288

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  • Smyth

    Smyth

    June 21st, 2016 at 2:30 PM

    But what if it is all the falsity of social media that is actually increasing the suicide numbers in the first place?

  • kimberley

    kimberley

    June 21st, 2016 at 5:53 PM

    The more resources that we have to throw at suicide I think the more our efforts at prevention will be successful. This is not an issue that we can continue to ignore and hope that it goes away. I think that for too long we have tried to bury it and hide it and now the numbers are going up and it has gotten us nowhere. I’m afraid that we are going to continue losing out on some really great people if this continues to not get the attention that it deserves.

  • Jack

    Jack

    June 23rd, 2016 at 3:09 PM

    Well none of us feel too good after a night of poor sleep, right?

  • hank

    hank

    June 26th, 2016 at 12:22 PM

    We all just need to pay more attention to each other and when there is a known problems, then we need to speak up and say something.
    Staying quiet while it might feel courteous is in many cases not doing anyone any favors.

  • Linc

    Linc

    June 26th, 2016 at 5:04 PM

    are some of the other social media websites getting on board with this as well?
    they should so that the outreach is even broader than that of just FB

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