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Death Hyperlink: Internet Suicide Pacts

Medical Journal Warns of 'Cybersuicide' Trend

The Wrong Kind of Community Support

If isolation is part of the recipe for suicide, wouldn't a community -- even an Internet chat room of suicidal people -- keep people from killing themselves?

No, Goodman says. In fact, suicidal patients often tell him in chilling language that other people's suicides gave them "inspiration" or "courage" to kill themselves. It comes, ironically, from the human need to be known.

"The suicide wants company. The suicidal person thinks, 'I want to be known by you, and if you truly empathize with me there is no question you will want to talk me out of it - because if you know me you know it is the right thing to do,'" Goodman says. "So the empathy on these web sites is not saying, "Oh, I really understand you.' Instead, they demonstrate that they know how you feel by adding to it. It is collaborative. It is mutual support for suicide."

Goodman notes that there are many more web sites dedicated to mental health, support, and professional help than there are to suicide. But the suicide sites offer something enormously powerful.

"Mutual support is more powerful as a change agent than psychotherapy," Goodman says. "Psychotherapy is one-way intimacy. But with mutual support, we are both in it together. You aren't going to try to talk me out of it. We want the same thing. I've heard the word inspiration twice in this context. Inspiration for suicide."

Since young people are at particular risk of Internet-supported suicide, Goodman suggests that parents monitor teens' Internet use. And Rajagopal suggests that doctors and psychologists should ask depressed patients about whether they have used the Internet to obtain information about suicide.

The good news, Rajagopal notes, is that very few suicides -- only about one in 100, even in Japan -- are linked to the Internet.

"Suicide pacts are a very small proportion of suicides, and the number of Internet-linked suicides is still very small," he says. "I don't want people to be unduly alarmed."

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