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Twitter, Monitored For Suicide Talk

Update Date: Oct 11, 2013 10:27 AM EDT

Social media may be a good tool to use as a medium for preventing suicide as a cause of cyber bullying, according to a new study. 

Twitter tweets exchanged by bullies were monitored by researchers as part of a recent project.

"Tweets may be useful to address some of the functions that suicide hotline groups perform, but at the discretion and potential for such organizations to provide those services via Twitter," said Michael Barnes, a health science professor at Brigham Young University and study co-author, in news release.

For the study, tweets complied from 50 states were searched for speak of suicide and the usage of key phrases associated with bullying tactics. 
Researchers found 37,717 problematic tweets from 28,088 users. "Each state's ratio of suicidal tweets strongly correlated with its actual suicide rate," said the study.

According to the study, "In Alaska, which has the nation's highest suicide rates, the BYU researchers identified 61 Twitter users as at-risk individuals. In Texas, where the rate of suicide is slightly lower but the population is significantly higher, more than 3,000 Twitter users were flagged as at-risk cases. In Utah, the study found 195 Twitter users who may be at risk."

As a means to help those who fall victim to cyber bullying BYU researchers want to create an app for schools allowing it to detect the acts in order to prevent an incident from occurring in the most prominent group affected, teens.   

"The idea is that schools make a connection with the students and obtain permission to receive the content they post socially," said BWU. "The app's algorithms can notify counselors when a student posts something that is a cry for help."

"Suicide is preventable," said Carl Hanson, a BYU health scientist and study co-author. "Social media is one channel for monitoring those at risk for suicide and potentially doing something about it."

The findings are to be published in the journal Crisis. 

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