A Crisis journal report uncovered a strong correlation between each state’s ratios of suicidal tweets with its actual suicide rate. Brigham Young University researchers found the relationship between suicidal tweets posted on the social micro-blog site Twitter and how they eerily reflect state suicide rates.
Using algorithms, researchers examined millions of tweets originating from all 50 states over a three month period – searching specifically for direct discussion of suicide, as well as keywords and phrases associated with known risk factors such as bullying.
Often times, individuals in crisis – teenagers especially – will unabashedly confess or elude to feelings on social media they normally wouldn’t verbalize out loud to friends and other loved ones. The analysis revealed 37,717 genuinely troubling tweets from 28,088 unique users for whom some location information was available.
In Alaska, which has the nation’s highest suicide rates, the BYU researchers identified 61 Twitter users as at-risk individuals. In Texas, where the rate of suicide is slightly lower but the population is significantly higher, more than 3,000 Twitter users were flagged as at-risk cases. And in Utah, the study found 195 Twitter users who were considered at-risk.
Research of this nature would make social sites like Twitter a helpful suicide prevention tool.
Michael Barnes, a health science professor at BYU and a study co-author 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.”
For other social media platforms, the researchers suggest developing apps for schools that would analyze information that students post. The idea is that schools make a connection with students and obtain permission to receive and review the content they post socially for warning signs of bullying and or suicidal tendencies. The app’s algorithms would alert counselors to kids it deemed at-risk.
Suicide, the intentional taking of one’s own life, is an ongoing epidemic among distressed teenagers and adults alike. Although some cases can be linked to sudden extreme emotional distress, encumbering financial burdens, alcoholism and drug abuse, most suicides are attributed to a mental disorder like severe depression, schizophrenia, and borderline personality disorder.
Social media has also played a negative role in teens taking their own lives – driven to do so after prolonged emotional hammering at the hands of cyber-bullies, typically their own school peers. In response, many of the primary instigators of the vitriolic abuse preceding the suicide have been charged with felony terroristic threatening, but these are rarely imposed and difficult to prosecute.
Statistically, suicide is the eleventh leading cause of death, according to How Stuff Works – following smoking, obesity, cancer, cardiovascular disease, respiratory diseases (COPD, pneumonia), and unintentional accidents (car crashes, falls).
On average, around one million people commit suicide per year by hanging, poisoning/overdose, and self-inflicted gunshot and or knife wounds. It has been estimated upwards of 20 million non-fatal suicidal attempts are made every year – and men are four times more likely to attempt suicide than women.
Attempted or successful suicide was once deemed a felony offense under common law in the United States, but has since been decriminalized in most countries – given the obvious absurdity of the logic behind arresting and charging a dead person and or penalizing someone in need of help.
Some states, however, classify attempted suicide as a criminal act, but prosecutions are rare, especially when the offender is terminally ill. Instead, some jurisdictions require a person who attempts suicide to undergo temporary hospitalization and psychological observation.
Additionally, a person who causes the death of an innocent bystander or would-be rescuer while in the process of attempting suicide can still be charged with murder or manslaughter.
These days assisted suicide, where a loved one aids in act of taking another willing person’s life, is more legally problematic. Aiding or abetting a suicide or an attempted suicide is still a crime in all states. The question of whether physician-assisted suicide should be permitted for persons with terminal illnesses has been the subject of much debate, but as yet this issue has not been resolved.
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