A rise in internet searches on Google using keywords related to a specific suicide method may be associated with a subsequent increase in suicide using that method. According to a new study by researchers at National Taiwan University (NTU), in collaboration with researchers based in Sydney, Australia, and Hong Kong, China, a rise in weekly search volumes on Google using terms related to charcoal-burning suicide was associated with increases in suicide incidence of this method in the same week and the following week.
Conducted by Dr. Shu-Sen Chang, assistant professor at the Institute of Health Behaviors and Community Sciences, College of Public Health, NTU and collaborators based in Taiwan, Australia, and Hong Kong, this study was published online on April 10 in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology.
“Suicides from carbon monoxide poisoning by inhaling barbecue charcoal gas was rarely heard of before but increased dramatically in several East/Southeast Asian countries, including Taiwan, over the last 15 years. It is important to identify channels thru which at risk individuals access detailed information of the suicide method.” said Dr. Chang, the first author of this recently published study.
Based on weekly data for Google search volumes, newspapers articles reporting suicide, and suicide in Taiwan (2008-2011), regression model analysis showed that every 10 percent increase in Google searches was associated with a 4.3 percent (95 percent confidence interval 1.1-7.6 percent) increase in charcoal-burning suicide incidence in the same week, and a 3.8 percent (0.4-7.2 percent) increase in the following week, after controlling for newspapers reporting, time trend, month effect, and unemployment and divorce rates. By contrast, non-charcoal-burning suicide was not associated with Google search volume.
In conclusion, Dr. Chang said, “our data suggest that some at risk individuals who searched, read, or studied the charcoal burning method online may later die by employing this method. The prevention of suicide using emerging methods may include monitoring and regulating online information that provides details of these methods as well as encouraging Internet service providers to provide help-seeking information.”