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Chatrooms Double-Edged Sword for Depressed Teens

Update Date: Oct 31, 2013 02:15 AM EDT
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Researchers said Internet chatrooms and other online resources may be both good and bad influences for teenagers when it comes to self-harm and suicidal thoughts among depressed young people.

Researchers at the University of Oxford found 14 studies that found conflicting results. Five found negative effects from online activity; they were also the higher-quality studies. Meanwhile, seven found positive influences, and two were undecided.

"While social media might be useful for supporting vulnerable adolescents, we also find that the Internet is doing more harm than good in some cases," study researcher Kate Daine, a postgraduate researcher at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, said in a statement. "We need to know more about how we can use social media as a channel to help young people in distress."

About 60 percent of all young people in a different study said that they had researched suicide online in the past. And nearly three-quarters of those who engaged in self-harm said they had researched it online beforehand.

Suicide is a leading cause of death among teenagers and young adults, with about 4,600 lives lost each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Rather than concentrating primarily on ways of blocking and censoring such sites, we should think about online opportunities to reach out to people in emotional distress," Joe Ferns, executive director of policy at Samaritans, a charity founded in the United Kingdom that runs a suicide crisis hotline, said in a statement. However, "Where possible, the authorities should use their existing powers to prosecute malicious individuals" who encourage suicide online, Ferns said.

"That was surprising," says Paul Montgomery, a professor of psycho-social intervention at the University of Oxford and an author of the study, which was published in the online journal PLOS ONE.

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