Social media: a safe and effective way to reach young people exposed to suicide

Social media: a safe and effective way to reach young people exposed to suicide

22 May 2023

A new Orygen study has found that providing suicide prevention information to young people via social media is safe and acceptable for young people who have been exposed to a suicide or suicide attempt.

The research published in JMIR Human Factors found that Orygen’s #chatsafe guidelines and social media campaign were successful in helping young people feel more confident and safer talking online about suicide, and helped them feel more capable of helping someone who might be thinking of suicide.

The #chatsafe guidelines were first released in Australia in August 2018 and have been developed into local languages for young people in Brazil, Finland, Hong Kong, Mexico, Nigeria, Norway, South Korea, Singapore, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

The study involved sending social media content to over 260 young people who had been exposed to a suicide or knew someone who had attempted suicide within a period of two years. Participants were asked a number of questions regarding their use of social media, their willingness to help someone in a suicide situation, how confident they felt in communicating about suicide online, and how safe they felt.

Lead author of the study, Louise La Sala, said suicide is a leading cause of death for young people in Australia and around the world. “Young people can be exposed to suicide through personal connections, traditional media, and now more commonly, through social media.”

“The findings of the study provide an important step forward in educating young people about suicide prevention and how to communicate responsibly online. This is especially important after a suicide has occurred,” La Sala said.

Research suggests that exposure to suicide-related content on social media can be distressing, but it also provides an opportunity to reach young people with suicide prevention information.

“The findings from this study paint a promising picture for the role of social media in providing information and support to young people about their mental health,” La Sala said.

“There are worries that upsetting or harmful information can circulate widely online, particularly information that might trivialise or sensationalise suicide.

“Our goal was to see if social media can be a helpful tool in providing support after a suicide or suicide attempt, our research has showed that it can, with no negative effects reported,” she said.

#chatsafe, has recently been revamped to include advice for young people on how to engage with potentially dangerous online games, challenges and hoaxes. The guidelines also include and dedicated advice for influencers who create content related to mental health and who engage with young people with mental ill-health. You can download the updated #chatsafe guidelines here.

The #chatsafe program is funded by the Department of Health, National Suicide Prevention Leadership and Support Program. This work was also funded by Suicide Prevention Australia.