At the International Conference on the Use of the Internet in Mental Health in Montreal earlier this month, I discussed how far we’ve come in 15 years of mental health online. But for all my discussion about social networking websites like PatientsLikeMe.com and Twitter, one of the slides sticks with me.
It’s the slide on “Suicide… Read this first,” a single, static webpage that’s been online since 1995 and written by Martha Ainsworth. Its purpose is singular yet deceptively simple — help people understand their thoughts and feelings about wanting to commit suicide, and hope they take enough away from it to make the choice to live another day. It has been read by nearly 8 million people during that time.
Yes, that’s right — 8 million people have read a single page about suicide. To put that into some perspective, just last November (2008), SAMHSA announced it had answered the 1 millionth phone call to its The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline network since the hotline was launched on Jan. 1, 2005.
When Psych Central started hosting the service a few years ago, we added a one-question survey at the end of the page to gauge how “effective” the page was in helping people with their suicidal thoughts. It’s one thing to note how many people have read a page, but it’s another to say whether it’s an effective intervention that actually prevents suicide.
Can a single, very unsexy Web 1.0 static web page be effective in helping people change their minds about suicide?
- 29% – Yes, this helped me
- 24% – No, this did not help me
- 31% – Still not sure
- 14% – N/A
So for 29 percent of the people, a single web page has changed their mind about suicide. We don’t, however, know how long-lasting the intervention is (it could be that 2 days later, a person changes their mind back).
For 24 percent of people who’ve taken the survey, the page has not helped. And 31 percent of people are still not sure which way they’re going to go. That’s 55 percent of visitors to the page who either are still thinking of committing suicide, or are not sure if they’re going to, so a lot more work still needs to be done.
However, extrapolating the numbers out, that one web page has potentially helped 2,320,000 people choose not to commit suicide. That’s more than double the number of suicides prevented by the vast resources of the U.S. federal government.
All by one person and one page.
So I’m all for the Web 2.0 / Health 2.0 / Twitterverse / Facebook networks and websites helping people. But in terms of mass (as in “population wide”) mental health prevention, you can’t beat something as simple as a well-written webpage.
People sometimes ask me “Why do you do this?” This is why.