There are calls for greater regulation of online content related to self-harm and suicide, particularly that which is user-generated. However, the online space is a source of support and advice, including an important sharing of experiences. This study aims to explore what it is about such online content, and how people interact with it, that may confer harm or offer benefit.
The authors undertook a systematic review of the published evidence, using customised searches up to February 2021 in seven databases. The authors included empirical research on the internet or online use and self-harm or suicide content that had been indexed since 2015. The authors undertook a theoretically driven narrative synthesis.
From 4,493 unique records, 87 met our inclusion criteria. The literature is rapidly expanding and not all the evidence is high quality, with very few longitudinal or intervention studies so little evidence to understand possible causal links. Very little content online is classifiable as explicitly harmful or definitively helpful, with responses varying by the individual and immediate context. The authors present a framework that seeks to represent the interplay in online use between the person, the medium, the content and the outcome.
This review highlights that content should not be considered separately to the person accessing it, so online safety means thinking about all users. Blanket removal or unthinking regulation may be more harmful than helpful. A focus on safe browsing is important and tools that limit time and diversify content would support this.
This study was funded in part by a grant from the Samaritans Online Harms Programme.
Brennan, C., Saraiva, S., Mitchell, E., Melia, R., Campbell, L., King, N. and House, A. (2022), "Self-harm and suicidal content online, harmful or helpful? A systematic review of the recent evidence", Journal of Public Mental Health, Vol. 21 No. 1, pp. 57-69. https://doi.org/10.1108/JPMH-09-2021-0118
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