Suicide on Instagram: Content analysis of a German suicide-related hashtag
Background: Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15–29-year-olds globally. Unfortunately, the suicide-related content on Instagram, a popular social media platform for youth, has not received the scholarly attention it deserves. Method: The present study provides a content analysis of posts tagged as #selbstmord, a German suicide-related hashtag. These posts were created between July 5 and July 11, 2017. Results: Approximately half of all posts included words or visuals related to suicide. Cutting was by far the most prominent method. Although sadness was the dominant emotion, self-hate and loneliness also appeared regularly. Importantly, inconsistency – a gap between one’s inner mental state (e.g., sadness) and one’s overtly expressed behavior (e.g., smiling) – was also a recurring theme. Conversely, help-seeking, death wishes, and professional awareness–intervention material were very rare. An explorative analysis revealed that some videos relied on very fast cutting techniques. We provide tentative evidence that users may be exposed to purposefully inserted suicide-related subliminal messages (i.e., exposure to content without the user’s conscious awareness). Limitations: We only investigated the content of posts on one German hashtag, and the sample size was rather small. Conclusion: Suicide prevention organizations may consider posting more awareness–intervention materials. Future research should investigate suicide-related subliminal messages in social media video posts. Although tentative, this finding should raise a warning flag for suicide prevention scholars.