Suicidal Tweets Reflect Suicide Rates

Tweeting for Help

Researchers at Brigham Young University have found that the ratio of suicidal tweets reflects closely on the actual suicide rate.[1] Could social media platforms serve as an early warning system to prevent such tragedies?

Tweeting What You Aren’t Comfortable Saying Out Loud

TweetAfter examining millions of tweets from all 50 states over a three-month period, researchers found that with social media, people often say things they don’t feel comfortable saying out loud to family or friends.1 According to researcher and computer scientist at Brigham Young University, Christophe Giraud-Carrier, Ph.D., stated that he and his colleagues searched for direct discussions of suicide, as well as keywords and phrases that are known as risk factors (example: bullying).1

Giraud-Carrier and colleagues found 37,717 troubling tweets from 28,088 unique users.1 Breaking it down by state, they found that each state’s ratio of suicidal tweets strongly reflected its actual suicide rate.1 In Alaska, with the highest suicide rate amongst the states, 61 individuals were at high-risk.1 Given their low population, this directly correlated with their high rate of suicide.1 In Texas, where the population is much higher, over 3,000 individuals were at risk, correlating with their slightly smaller suicide rate.1

Social media could be a complement to what is already being done to prevent suicide.1

Colleague Dr. Michael Barnes stated, “Tweets may be useful to address some of the functions that suicide hotline groups perform, but at the discretion and potential for such organizations to provide those services via Twitter.”1

Social Media: An Early Warning System

State health departments may also use social media as an early warning system, as more than 15 percent of tweets contain state-level location information at the least.1

Going forward, Brigham Young University is working on developing an app for schools that will incorporate and analyze information that students post, allowing schools to make a connection with students. They would have to obtain permission from them to receive their socially-posted content, however.1 If permission is granted, the app can notify counselors when a student posts a cry for help.1

Heart-breaking accounts of cyber-bullying and suicide are all too common, and with suicide being preventable, social media could be a helpful way of monitoring those at risk, potentially allowing them to obtain the help they need before it is too late.1

[1] Wood, J. (2013, October 12). Suicidal Tweets Mirror Suicide Rates. Psych Central. Retrieved October 15, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2013/10/12/suicidal-tweets-mirror-suicide-rates/60626.html

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