The Impact of a Highly Publicized Celebrity Suicide on Suicide-Related Online Information Seeking

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Abstract

Background: Research has already acknowledged the importance of the Internet in suicide prevention as search engines such as Google are increasingly used in seeking both helpful and harmful suicide-related information. Aims: We aimed to assess the impact of a highly publicized suicide by a Hollywood actor on suicide-related online information seeking. Method: We tested the impact of the highly publicized suicide of Robin Williams on volumes of suicide-related search queries. Results: Both harmful and helpful search terms increased immediately after the actor's suicide, with a substantial jump of harmful queries. Limitations: The study has limitations (e.g., possible validity threats of the query share measure, use of ambiguous search terms). Conclusion: Online suicide prevention efforts should try to increase online users' awareness of and motivation to seek help, for which Google's own helpline box could play an even more crucial role in the future.

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