Online harms? Suicide-related online experience: a UK-wide case series study of young people who die by suicide

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Abstract

Background
Few studies have examined online experience by young people who die by suicide.

Methods
A 3-year UK-wide consecutive case series of all young people aged 10–19 who died by suicide, based on national mortality data. We extracted information on the antecedents of suicide of 544 of these 595 deaths (91%) from official investigations, mainly inquests.

Results
Suicide-related online experience was reported in 24% (n = 128/544) of suicide deaths in young people between 2014 and 2016, equivalent to 43 deaths per year, and was more common in girls than boys (OR 1.87, 95% CI 1.23–2.85, p = 0.003) and those identifying as LGBT (OR 2.35, 95% CI 1.10–5.05, p = 0.028). Searching for information about method was most common (n = 68, 13%), followed by posting suicidal ideas online (n = 57, 10%). Self-harm, bereavement (especially by suicide), social isolation, and mental and physical ill-health were more likely in those known to have suicide-related online experience compared to those who did not. 29 (5%) were bullied online, more often girls (OR 2.84, 1.34–6.04, p = 0.007). Online bullying often accompanied face-to-face bullying (n = 16/29, 67%).

Conclusions
Suicide-related online experience is a common, but likely underestimated, antecedent to suicide in young people. Although its causal role is unclear, it may influence suicidality in this population. Mental health professionals should be aware that suicide-related online experience – not limited to social media – is a potential risk for young patients, and may be linked to experiences offline. For public health, wider action is required on internet regulation and support for children and their families.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychological Medicine
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 19 May 2022

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