Tweets About Suicide Correlate With State Suicide Rates

Brigham Young researchers say their findings prove the value of social media as a possible tool in suicide prevention.

What's the Latest Development?


Using algorithms to search through millions of tweets nationwide over a three-month period, researchers at Brigham Young University discovered a troubling but potentially valuable trend: Each state's ratio of tweets discussing suicide or key risk factors for suicide correlated strongly with that state's actual suicide rate as reported by traditional sources. A paper describing the research in detail was published online in Crisis.

What's the Big Idea?

The researchers strongly suggest that social media be incorporated into existing suicide prevention strategies. Study co-author Michael Barnes says, "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." The team wants to include other social networks by creating an app that will allow schools to track students' posts (with their permission) and receive alerts at potential signs of trouble. Says study co-author Christophe Giraud-Carrier: "With social media, kids sometimes say things that they aren't saying out loud to an adult or friend in person."

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