Suicide-Related Conversations on Instagram

June 15, 2018
News Type:  Weekly Spark, Weekly Spark Research

Research suggests that suicide-related Instagram posts may not be adhering to best practices for preventing contagion (i.e., suicide risk associated with the knowledge of another person’s suicidal behavior). In addition, the voices of public and mental health professionals appear to be inadequately represented on the social media platform.

Researchers extracted a randomly selected sample of 500 posts on Instagram containing #suicide and #suicidal hashtags from a larger sample collected from March 1 to June 30, 2016. Using a quantitative content analysis, they examined how suicide-related posts were portrayed, the extent to which these posts adhered to World Health Organization media guidelines for preventing contagion, and how caring was represented.

Suicide-related posts received a median number of 19 “likes.” Very few of the suicide-related posts in the sample mentioned media guidelines. Only 18 percent mentioned hope and recovery, 2.2 percent included information on where to get help, and .002 percent referred to public education. Social support, in the form of positive comments, was present in less than a quarter of all posts. None of the supportive comments were provided by a public or mental health professional or organization.

Public and mental health campaigns may need to increase their presence on social media platforms to provide timely guidance to those at risk of suicide who need information or assistance. Future research should also investigate how a lack of adherence to media guidelines on social media may influence suicide contagion.

Carlyle, K. E., Guidry, J. P. D., Williams, K., Tabaac, A., & Perrin, P. B. (2018). Suicide conversations on Instagram™: Contagion or caring? Journal of Communication in Healthcare, 11(1), 12–18.

Planning and Implementing:  New and Social Media, Communications and Outreach, Safe/Effective Messaging