WASHINGTON – People searching the Internet for information about suicide are more likely to find sites encouraging suicide than those offering help or support, according to a new study.
Researchers from the Universities of Bristol, Oxford and Manchester found that nearly half of Web sites showing up in queries of the four top search engines gave "how to" advice on taking one's own life.
Only 13 percent, by contrast, focused on suicide prevention or offered support, while another 12 percent actively discouraged suicide.
Previous studies have shown that media reporting of suicide and its portrayal on television influence suicidal behavior, particularly the choice of method used, but little is known about the impact of the Internet.
The study, published in the British Medical Journal, replicated a typical search that might be undertaken by a person looking for instructions and information about methods of suicide.
The same set of search terms were fed into Google, Yahoo, MSN, and Ask.
The researchers analyzed the first 10 sites from each search, giving a total of 480 hits.
Just under half of the sites provided some information about methods of suicide, while almost a fifth were for dedicated suicide sites, half of them actively encouraging, promoting, or facilitating the taking of one's life.
Overall, Google and Yahoo retrieved the highest number of dedicated suicide sites, whereas MSN had the highest number of prevention or support sites and academic or policy sites.