Suicide and the Web

    Experts say the internet can widen the circle of acquaintances who are vulnerable to suicidal thoughts after a young person takes his or her life.

    After a Florida teen broadcast his suicide on the Web last month, a Philadelphia-area crisis hotline fielded a stream of calls from local parents concerned that their own college-age children were at risk after hearing about — or seeing — the suicide online.

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    Experts say one suicide can lead to another. Behind that phenomenon is the idea of contagion.

    Bradley: We see it happening with kids who actually know each other in school communities where we lose one kid and then the suicidal thinking among the peers starts to go up.

    Bucks County psychologist Michael Bradley specializes in treating adolescents. He says the internet and television have widened the social circle young people live in. So when a suicide happens, professionals now look for clues online.

    Bradley: And then when we go back and pull the hard drives and check out where this kid has been, it turns out he’s been intimately involved with a cyber community, if you will, thousands of miles away. And then you see this whole aspect of contagion and cluster suicide occurring not in a community but rather on an internet connection.

    Bradley says parents are often afraid to talk with their children about suicide, but it may be a way to help.

    Bradley: And you do that by hanging out with your child and asking him straight-up about that issue. In fact when you directly confront a kid and say ‘Hey look, have you ever thought about killing yourself? you are making your kid safer, you’re not putting that thought in their brain.

    Suicide is the third-leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24 in the United States.

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