‘Harmful internent content’ could be encouraging people to take their own lives

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MINISTERS SHOULD consider how to restrict access to “harmful internet content” which could encourage people to take their own lives to help bring down the “unacceptable” suicide rate, MPs have said.

The Commons Health Committee urged the Government to develop a strategy with strong national leadership and clear accountability to combat avoidable loss of life from suicide.

Wider help for public mental health services and targeted support for at-risk groups through early intervention should also be given priority, the committee said in its interim report into suicide prevention.

Those bereaved by suicide should also receive better primary and secondary care.

The committee also said media guidelines on the reporting of suicide are being widely ignored and greater attention should be paid to breaches of the rules.

Tory MP and committee chairwoman Sarah Wollaston said: “Four thousand eight hundred and twenty people are recorded as having died by suicide in England last year, but the true figure is likely to be higher.

“Suicide is preventable and much more can and should be done to support those at risk.

“I hope to see the most important messages from witnesses to our inquiry taken into account by the Government in their renewed suicide prevention strategy.

“The committee will scrutinise the updated strategy and then hold a follow-up hearing before publishing a full report.”

A Department of Health spokesman said: “Every death by suicide is a tragedy and devastating for families, friends and communities. We are investing almost £1bn in providing mental health support in A&E and home based crisis care and are currently updating our suicide prevention strategy, which we are confident will address many of the issues raised by the committee.”

The news comes amid growing concerns over suicides linked to the internet.

As early as 2008 British police expressed concern that “internet cults” and the desire for achieving prestige via online memorials may encourage suicides.

But although there are concerns that the internet may be a dangerous platform, where suicidal people might find suicide methods or encouragement to kill themselves, research has shown that the internet is more likely to have a positive than a negative influence.

The Samaritans charity agrees that certain types of suicide-related material online, such as detailed information about suicide methods, can be potentially dangerous when accessed by vulnerable individuals.

Encouraging or assisting suicide online is already a criminal offence in the UK.

However, the Samaritans argue that an approach based on blocking or banning websites “would be problematic and there would a limit to what it could realistically achieve”.

The Samaritians believe that a more effective approach would be to expand the sources of support to vulnerable people online, and to encourage organisations which run highly popular sites to develop responsible practices and to promote sources of support.

A Samaritans spokesman said the way that certain aspects of the internet could be influencing people at risk of suicide has come to prominence in recent years, with several widely reported cases of individuals taking their own lives having accessed suicide-related content online.

For help and support, contact the Samaritans for free on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org.