The use of social media to communicate suicidality by young rural people and its application for community responders and clinicians.

Ms Ann-Maree (Annie) Fardell Hartley1, Dr Judith Crockett1, Dr  Shaun Wang1

1Charles Sturt University, Orange, Australia

Psychological autopsy (PA) is one of the most valuable tools to better understand death by suicide.  Like a physical autopsy, PA attempts to synthesise information such as dissecting medical records, interviewing those close to the person and reviewing all available information to determine the person’s mental state prior to death and the possible reasons for causation.  PA can be conducted on individual cases through to interconnected cases.  With the emergence of social media platforms as a key communication tool in the 21st century, the engagement and patterns of usage need to be evaluated in the context of performing a PA, both on individuals and clusters of suicide.  In an ongoing qualitative research study exploring the relationships between social media use and suicide risk in rural and regional NSW, we have uncovered suicidal signs expressed in social media by this population. We find that: 1) when feeling vulnerable, young people with a history of chronic suicidality use social media to engage with ‘friends’ or peers, not adults they otherwise relate to; 2) communication of suicidality on social media takes forms of memes, ‘stories’ showing intended means of death, and comments pertaining to current mental state and 3) there are changes in patterns of use to highlight increasing suicide risk.


Annie Fardell Hartley is a dedicated Registered Psychologist and Suicidologist who has been working to improve mental health outcomes for rural and remote residents for the last 20 years. Annie has worked clinically across all tiers of service provision, as well as being an accredited Psychological Autopsy Investigator and experienced educator. She is currently completing a PhD investigating how rural youth who are experiencing suicidality interact with social media in an effort to identify early warning mechanisms. Annie’s life work aims to build community capacity to respond to suicide via a range of grassroots initiatives and campaigns. She is also a committee member and advisor for a range of state, national and international suicide prevention associations.

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