Year: 2018 Source: Journal of Communication in Healthcare. (2018). 11 (1): 12-18, DOI: 10.1080/17538068.2018.1436500 SIEC No: 20180477

Background: Suicide is a significant public health concern with approximately a million deaths from suicide worldwide each year. There is increasing evidence that media reporting of suicide can lead to imitative suicidal behaviors, and the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guidelines for reporting suicides provided a framework of analysis. Given the use and reach of visual social media platforms like Instagram and the paucity of research focusing on the platform, the potential for contagion effects via a social media platform like Instagram should be considered. As such, understanding conversations about suicide on Instagram is of interest to health communicators, public health professionals, and mental health professionals alike.

Method: This study examines both the visual and textual components of suicide-themed posts on social media platform Instagram. A random sample of 500 Instagram posts including the hashtags #suicide and/or #suicidal were extracted from a larger sample collected during March-June 2016.

Results: Results show that self-harm was present in a majority of Instagram posts, and that posts that mention suicide ideation elicited higher engagement than posts that did not. Public health voices were largely absent from the conversation surrounding suicide on Instagram. Finally, few of the constructive WHO recommendations to prevent media contagion were visible in the study sample. These guidelines should be considered for participation in suicide-related online conversations.

Conclusions: Instagram appears to be used frequently for suicide-related communications. Public health and mental health professionals should consider increased involvement on this platform, as well as application of the WHO suicide contagion media guidelines.