Comment Writer Georgina Tait discusses the use of Suicide Forums and whether they do more to hinder than help someone in need
Content Warning: This article discusses themes which some readers may find distressing.
A mother, Sarah Lewis has blamed suicide forums for her daughter’s death, claiming that the NHS is failing in light of these forums. Of course, it is impossible to ever know if her daughter would still be here in the absence of the forums. Despite this, it is still important to investigate the potential impacts of engaging in such websites.
The popularity of using a forum appears to demonstrate that, in times of strife, people turn to those who will allow them to slip further into their mental illness. It is comforting to speak to someone who you can relate to, however, ‘comforting’ does not necessarily mean it is healthy. Callie, Sarah’s daughter, accessed information on how to end her life through the forum, in which she eventually used to commit suicide. She also received tips on how to hide her mental health issues from medical professionals. Perhaps, if the suicide victim had the opportunity to talk to a professional online, rather than someone with similar issues, she may not have chosen to take her own life.
The danger of using these forums does not only apply to people with depression or suicidal thoughts. Pro-ana forums are also widely accessible, which encourage sufferers to allow their condition to take control of them, instead of encouragement to overcome their illness. For instance, if a person cannot stop eating, or is struggling to avoid eating, they may seek help from others who are also not mentally healthy and are having similar thoughts. ‘Thinspiration’, diets, exercise routines, and appetite suppressants are recommended on the majority of the forums. Therefore, they provide help in support of the mental health condition, rather than providing help to tackle it. This can be very dangerous and make it even more difficult to begin recovery. The comments made can also trigger relapses – the people making these comments typically believe they are being helpful, when in reality, they are oblivious to the damage they are causing.
When a person seeks help from a forum, they are likely in a very vulnerable position. We need a system put in place, where online searches for these potentially life-threatening forums, result in only official and approved websites, that can guarantee the correct standard of care that mental health sufferers deserve.
It is widely agreed that the NHS needs a substantial amount of extra funding for their mental health services. Although the current services available have benefited numerous patients, other mental health sufferers have needed extra care. Perhaps, if forums had higher regulation to ensure that only comments with a positive impact were allowed, they would become a much safer environment to seek help.
As a university student, there are various alternative options to make use of when a student needs advice or support.
These options include but are not limited to:
- Emailing the University’s welfare service to book an appointment
- Contacting your GP and asking for an emergency appointment
- Contact your GP on their out-of-hours number
- Call 111
- Call Forward Thinking Birmingham’s 24-hour crisis team on 0300 300 0099
- Call the Samaritans on 116 123 for their 24-hour free service
- Go to your local walk-centre.
For more information on how forums can be dangerous, you can watch the documentary, Failed by the NHS: Callie’s Story on BBC iPlayer.