Searching for the off switch

The complex interplay between suicidal people in online chat rooms is discussed in an excellent edition of BBC Radio 4’s The Report which you can listen to online or download as a podcast.

Despite the programme being a carefully researched and nuanced exploration of the issues, let me just note that it is sold on a stupid premise, namely “Is the internet encouraging vulnerable people to kill themselves?”

People in passing cars have apparently been known to shout “jump!” to suicidal people on the Golden Gate Bridge but you would never see an article entitled “Is the transport system encouraging vulnerable people to kill themselves?”

Sadly, people’s anxieties about new technology means you can get away with such meaningless generalisation when talking about how people interact online.

Needless to say, I was expecting 30 minutes of badly-researched shock-horror radio but instead found a carefully constructed documentary that takes a comprehensive look at whether suicide chat rooms and online groups that provide self-harm instructions actually increase the risk of ending it all.

The documentary talks to families who have lost loved ones after they participated in online groups, police who have investigated such deaths and a suicide chat-room administrator.

It also covers the case of William Melchert-Dinkel who is accused of encouraging people to take their own lives by pretending to agree to online suicide pacts, and discusses recent studies on how participation in such groups affects suicidal thinking (with preliminary research suggesting a reduction).

The knee-jerk response to such groups is usually for government organisations to suggest they should be ‘banned’ (apparently unaware that this is neither possible nor effective) although the documentary covers some more interesting suggestions – including outreach workers who offer support when an at-risk individual seems to be seeking methods to self-harm.

The one line premise is the only bad thing about this documentary and it’s possibly one of the best discussions you’ll hear about the internet and mental health for a long time. It doesn’t look for, or rely on, easy answers and manages some insightful coverage of a delicate issue.
 

Link to streamed audio of The Report on suicide chat rooms.
Link to podcast of the same.

4 Comments

  1. Posted October 21, 2010 at 4:06 am | Permalink

    “Despite the programme being a carefully researched and nuanced exploration of the issues, let me just note that it is sold on a stupid premise, namely ‘Is the internet encouraging vulnerable people to kill themselves?’

    People in passing cars have apparently been known to shout ‘jump!’ to suicidal people on the Golden Gate Bridge but you would never see an article entitled ‘Is the transport system encouraging vulnerable people to kill themselves?’ ”

    You’repremise is wrong, for a start, making the “traffic” comment irrelevant and sensationalist.

    No one is claiming that “the internet is encouraging people to kill themselves”. Indeed, there are numerous sites, as you know, that work very hard to do the opposite.

    But have you actually vistied and taken a careful look at what goes on in pro-suicide forum communities? or pro-anorexia forum communisties? What happens there is not just encouragement of life-threatening behavior. It is normalization of that behavior, normalization with the element of competition.

    If you have taken a personal look at these sites, look again. They are dangerous, in a very insidious way, and they prey upon vulnerable people.

  2. anon
    Posted October 21, 2010 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    Well if the “Golden Gate” dismissives won’t help, maybe your own CMHT can…

    http://www.getreading.co.uk/news/s/5028_lack_of_care_led_to_mans_suicide

    Note, the same pyschiatrist here…

    http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:dqGKztqmJWIJ:archive.thisislancashire.co.uk/2003/2/11/567581.html+dr+julian+mason+dismissive&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=uk

    Psychiatry doesn’t understand experiences. It just worries about middle-class house-prices…

  3. Posted October 21, 2010 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    I’ve spent some time in a pro-suicide chat room. I don’t feel anyone was preying on me or taking advantage.
    There are a lot of support site online that are not pro-suicide and those can be great. But sometimes when feeling really really down they stop being helpful. There’s a point where you loose the support and everyone switches to “go to the hospital now”. It make it so I have to censor myself even in an anonymous forum, because people get so caught up with the suicide issue they miss the pain.

    In the pro-suicide chat I’ve visited specific methods can’t be discussed in the chat though the chat is closely associated with a list of methods. Being able to talk about suicide and not worry about people freaking out about it helps a lot.

    In therapy where theoretically a person should be able to talk about anything there’s a line about how much a person can talk about suicide before the therapist takes action. Hospitalizations are basically expensive babysitting. It creates a new problem through the disruption of my life. What I really need is a person to deal with the full extent of the problem and help me get through it. Unfortunately I have to censor myself in therapy to avoid disruptive reactions. That’s why resources like these pro suicide groups can be very helpful. They are one of the only few places to talk freely about something that needs to be spoken about.

  4. Posted October 21, 2010 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    Being in the suicidal state is really a damn one. Am thankful with my families who stayed with me and never let me fall into it. It is a matter of understanding the consequences and the effects. Closed family ties really counts.


3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] about the discussion by Mind Hacks […]

  2. […] BBC har nu en radiodokumentär om den komplexa kommunikationen mellan suicidala personer i chatrum. Mind Hacks, som tipsar om programmet, skriver såhär: “Bortsett från att programmet är baserat på […]

  3. […] Searching for the off switch (mindhacks.com) […]

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