The way teens communicate has changed dramatically in recent years. Instead of exchanging information in dribs and drabs by congregating in groups after school or spending hours on the phone, teens are now able to blast everyone they know all at once via social media. Whether helpful or harmful, teens can disperse information in seconds to every friend and acquaintance.
Twitter Makes It Easier To Express Painful Feelings
Social media has various benefits, including raising awareness for charity events or spreading the word about an upcoming social event. For some kids that are shy in person, social media provides a way to freely express themselves. For others sites like Twitter are used as a call for help.
New research discovered there may be a role for social media in identifying individuals at risk for suicide. A study out of Brigham Young University shows suicide rates are mirrored in the number of tweets that reflect suicidal thinking. The findings provide support for the idea of social media as a way to track health symptoms.
Research Of Suicide-Related Tweets
The researchers analyzed millions of Twitter postings from all 50 states within a three-month time frame. The tweets were evaluated for suicide-related topics, including keywords or phrases associated with risk factors like bullying or depression. Study author Christophe Giraud-Carrier, Ph.D., a computer scientist, explains that in many cases the individuals writing tweets they wouldn’t say out loud to a friend or trusted adult.
The research team identified 37,717 tweets stemming from 28,088 Twitter users that were designated as troublesome. These tweets were connected to some level of location information. In each case, the number of suicide-related tweets for each state correlated with the state’s actual rates of suicide.
In Alaska, for instance, where suicide rates are the highest in the country, the team identified 61 Twitter accounts that were considered to be at-risk for suicide. By contrast, in Texas, where the population is greater but the rate of suicide is lower, the researchers found 3,000 users to be at-risk for suicide. In Utah, there were 195 accounts tagged as high-risk.
Using Twitter In Suicide Prevention Efforts
Giraud-Carrier said the results provide support for the idea of using Twitter as a complement to suicide prevention efforts. Students that post keywords or phrases identified as warning signs on multiple sites could be targeted for intervention by high schools and universities. Students could be encouraged to release content to school administrators so that algorithms could analyze tweets and identify students most at risk.
The BYU researchers believe an app could be developed for schools in which administrators are able to analyze the postings of their students on Twitter and other social media.
State health departments could also get involved. Some tweets come from accounts that contain at least state-level location information, providing a springboard for prevention efforts by state health officials.
Suicide can be difficult to predict. But with social media at-risk teens could get prevention materials and therapy in order to get to the root of underlying issues.
With the increased amount of time that teens spend online it makes sense to use social media as a way to identify patterns in a user’s postings. What began as a way for individuals to connect online could turn out to be way to save lives.