Search Trends Reveal The Most Suicidal States

By Neuroskeptic | December 14, 2012 5:57 pm

US states with more Google searches for suicide-related things actually have a higher suicide rate, according to a study just out.

Researchers Gunn and Lester write that, across the 50 US states,

The association between suicide rates and the search volume for ‘‘commit suicide’’ was significant and positive[r=0.31, p=0.01]… ‘‘how to suicide’’ was marginally significant and positive [r=0.21, p=0.07]… Finally, ‘‘suicide prevention’’ was significant and positive [r=0.61, p=0.001].

This seems pretty convincing although it’s hard to know whether this represents suicidal people making the searches, as opposed to people searching in response to local suicides that already happened.

The fact that “suicide prevention” was the closest correlated with suicides while “how to suicide” was weakest makes the latter seem more plausible to me.

Previous suicide-search research has given mixed findings:

Sueki (2011) looked at variations in the volume of Google searches about suicide and depression in Japan by month from 2004–2012 and found that the monthly search volume for‘‘suicide’’and‘‘suicide method’’was not significantly correlated with the monthly suicide rate. However, searches for‘‘depression’’ were positively associated with the monthly suicide rate especially with a time lag of 1–3 months.

Over the past couple of years there’s been a flurry of studies based on analyzing Google and Twitter trends. What’s interesting to me is that we’re really in the early days of this, when you think about likely future technologies. What will happen when everyone’s wearing a computer 24/7 that records their every word and move, and even what they see?

Eventually, psychology and sociology might evolve (or degenerate) into no more than the analysis of such data…

ResearchBlogging.orgGunn III, J., & Lester, D. (2012). Using google searches on the internet to monitor suicidal behavior Journal of Affective Disorders DOI: 10.1016/j.jad.2012.11.004

CATEGORIZED UNDER: mental health, papers
  • Anonymous

    Any thought on blogging about available effective treatments for suicidality and distressor reduction?

    There's no suicide reduction after inpatient hospitalization across diagnoses, so what IS effective?

  • GamesWithWords
  • JT

    Wouldn't have looking at the correlations between the search terms helped answer the question you raised about who is doing the searching? Though, I suppose that wasn't the point of their study.

  • GamesWithWords

    Just for folks who aren't following the conversation over at my blog, I argued that large-scale observational studies will never take the place of experiments because experiments inherently provide more information. Plus, observational studies are dependent on what is available to be observed. To pull out a geeky Orson Scott Card quote, in “Speaker for the Dead”, a scientist studying an alien species is required by law to do observation only — no experiments and no asking questions. He explains that he doesn't know anything about that species's mating habits because they haven't yet chosen to do it in front of him.



No brain. No gain.

About Neuroskeptic

Neuroskeptic is a British neuroscientist who takes a skeptical look at his own field, and beyond. His blog offers a look at the latest developments in neuroscience, psychiatry and psychology through a critical lens.


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