The study, published in BMC Psychiatry, suggests there is a clear variation in behaviour throughout the week and throughout the day and researchers say targeted support to those at risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviours can be made more readily available.
Monday has often been identified as the day of the week which has the highest risk of someone taking their own life. From the data that we’ve studied, we can see a clear trend over weekly cycles that closely follows the suicide timing patterns reported in some earlier studies.– Dr Rina Dutta, the study’s Primary Investigator from King’s IoPPN
She added, “If developed in the right way, we might have the capacity to target otherwise unreachable populations to deliver suicide prevention messaging and interventions where and when they are needed most.”
The researchers looked at the timings at which users of the Reddit forum “SuicideWatch” posted online. The forum is a moderated online community for individuals who are either at risk of, or know someone who is at risk of suicide.
The data, which was taken between 1st December 2008 and 31st August 2015, amounted to 90,518 posts. Over the course of a given week, posts to the forum were at their highest on Mondays between 02:00 and 05:00 in the morning. Posts trended downwards from Tuesday to Saturday. This was in stark contrast to data taken from the control group “AskReddit”, a separate forum on the same site in which users can ask general questions of each other, which saw most content posted in the later hours of the day.
The timings of the posts suggest that active users are experiencing disturbances to their sleep, and may represent a potentially modifiable risk factor for suicidal thoughts and behaviours. In addition, the early morning peak in SuicideWatch posts precedes the time of day during which suicide attempts and deaths most commonly occur.
Extensive use of social media has been associated with disturbed sleep, anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. Reducing the use of social media during the night hours might be an effective means of providing targeted psychological interventions in some individuals.– Dr Rina Dutta, the study’s Primary Investigator from King’s IoPPN
The researchers believe that using this data can be used to target at risk populations with greater levels of support.
“Given that we have a clear indication as to when at risk people are posting to this forum, it is challenging but certainly not implausible to envisage providing higher levels of moderation on Reddit and other suicide support forums during times of increased posting about suicidality.”
Dutta, R., Gkotsis, G., Velupillai, S. et al. Temporal and diurnal variation in social media posts to a suicide support forum. BMC Psychiatry 21, 259 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-021-03268-1 published online 19/5/21
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