Young people and suicide prevention experts agree collaboration is the key to improving online safety in relation to self-harm and suicide, a new study has found.  


    The study, led by Orygen and published in Frontiers in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, also found agreement between young people and suicide prevention professionals that stronger and more visible policies were an important part of making social media platforms safer.  


    Orygen’s Head of Suicide Prevention Research, Professor Jo Robinson said given the increasing prevalence of social media use among young people, understanding its effects, and potential benefits, was crucial for promoting the wellbeing of this group. 


    “We know that there can be risks for young people associated with using social media, however it’s important to balance these risks with the potential benefits – such as fostering a sense of community, facilitating help-seeking and providing a platform for grief expression,” Professor Robinson said. 

    “Finding ways to make online spaces safer – and limit the spread of harmful content – is incredibly important, given social media is a big part of many young people’s lives.” 


    The study included two expert panels, with 43 young people and 23 suicide prevention experts participating in a cross-sectional survey, and found agreement among participants on fundamental safety measures social media platforms and policymakers could adopt.


    “Specific actions recommended for social media companies include implementing robust safety policies covering self-harm and suicide, moderation of potentially harmful content, and the establishment of online safety centres within social platforms,” Professor Robinson said. 


    “Participants also expressed a preference for content warnings that are informative and provide links to resources.”  

    There was also some acknowledgement between study participants that artificial intelligence (AI) could potentially play a role in identifying users at risk and providing resources in response to self-harm or suicide-related content. 


    “The study findings highlight the challenges of balancing the risks and benefits inherent in online discussions about self-harm or suicide – including when it comes to the use of AI,” Professor Robinson said.  


    “By recognising the complex relationship between positive engagement and potential harm, advocating for broader safety policies and through informed and collaborative efforts, we can create a safer digital landscape for young people.” 


    Professor Robinson said that many of these strategies already existed, but could be made more visible and strengthened through international collaboration. 


    “Many social media platforms are already doing a lot to address these issues, but social media moves quickly and is not constrained by international borders,” Professor Robinson said. 


    “Both young people and suicide prevention experts agree that collaboration between policymakers, industry and social media platforms – on a global scale – needs to be part of making online spaces safer, promoting proactive, collective solutions.”