Association between internet searches related to suicide/self-harm and adolescent suicide death in South Korea in 2016-2020: Secondary data analysis
Choi, W-S., Han, J., & Hong, H.J.
Background: Previous studies have investigated the association between suicide and internet search volumes of terms related to suicide or self-harm. However, the results varied by people’s age, period, and country, and no study has exclusively investigated suicide or self-harm rates among adolescents. Objective: This study aims to determine the association between the internet search volumes of terms related to suicide/self-harm and the number of suicides among South Korean adolescents. We investigated gender differences in this association and the time lag between the internet search volumes of the terms and the connected suicide deaths. Methods: We selected 26 search terms related to suicide and self-harm among South Korean adolescents, and the search volumes of these terms for adolescents aged 13-18 years were obtained from the leading internet search engine in South Korea (Naver Datalab). A data set was constructed by combining data from Naver Datalab and the number of suicide deaths of adolescents on a daily basis from January 1, 2016, to December 31, 2020. Spearman rank correlation and multivariate Poisson regression analyses were performed to identify the association between the search volumes of the terms and the suicide deaths during that period. The time lag between suicide death and the increasing trend in the search volumes of the related terms was estimated from the cross-correlation coefficients. Results: Significant correlations were observed within the search volumes of the 26 terms related to suicide/self-harm. The internet search volumes of several terms were associated with the number of suicide deaths among South Korean adolescents, and this association differed by gender. The search volume for “dropout” showed a statistically significant correlation with the number of suicides in all adolescent population groups. The correlation between the internet search volume for “dropout” and the connected suicide deaths was the strongest for a time lag of 0 days. In females, self-harm and academic score showed significant associations with suicide deaths, but academic score showed a negative correlation, and the time lags with the strongest correlations were 0 and –11 days, respectively. In the total population, self-harm and suicide method were associated with the number of suicides, and the time lags with the strongest correlations were +7 and 0 days, respectively. Conclusions: This study identifies a correlation between suicides and internet search volumes related to suicide/self-harm among South Korean adolescents, but the relatively weak correlation (incidence rate ratio 0.990-1.068) should be interpreted with caution.