World Suicide Prevention Day and the opportunity to increase access to mental health information on Wikimedia projects

Content WARNING: This blog post contains discussion of suicide. If you or someone you know needs support, find help in your country by visiting the International Association for Suicide Prevention

World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD) (September 10) is an initiative launched by the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2003 to bring awareness to global suicide prevention efforts. Since 2003, international organizations, government agencies, and healthcare researchers and clinicians have participated in WSPD to advocate for localized efforts to communicate effectively about suicide and suicide prevention. 

There are hundreds of suicide and suicide-related articles on English Wikipedia, which are viewed by millions of readers. For example, the article on Suicide Methods alone receives more than ten thousand pageviews per day which makes it rank among the top 500 most-read articles. Since these articles are widely read, the Wikimedia community should prioritize following international best practices for suicide prevention when discussing this important topic.Individuals from across the Wikimedia movement developed the Wikimedia 2030 Movement Strategy Recommendations to enable the movement to grow sustainably and inclusively. Recommendation #8 highlights “Identifying Topics for Impact” as a priority for the movement. Improving Wikipedia’s coverage of suicide to better align with the recommendations of public health experts is just one way that the movement can focus on the impact of our projects on the public’s understanding of suicide prevention.

The WHO has classified suicide as a serious public health problem, and has found that suicide is a preventable cause of death if evidence-based, low-cost interventions are implemented in a timely manner. The stigma around suicide and mental health, however, discourages individuals from openly discussing suicide or seeking help. There is also a lack of awareness of suicide as a major public health issue and a lack of high quality data on suicide and suicide attempts. The United Nations specifically identified many groups as being at increased risk of suicide, including refugees and migrants, people living in humanitarian and conflict settings, indigenous peoples, prisoners, and members of the LGBTQI+ community. Additionally, women who are victims of domestic violence experience higher rates of depression and anxiety disorders and attempt suicide as result of the violence they experience. 

In response to the UN Sustainable Development Goal 3.4.2, the WHO recommends that the media follow reporting guidelines when writing about suicide and mental health. Media reporting that includes detailed information on suicide methods has been shown to lead to a rise in suicide. In contrast, reporting on help-seeking behaviors during difficult times has been shown to contribute to suicide prevention. Research has shown that readers frequently turn to Wikipedia as a source of health information. One study has indicated that “Wikipedia’s health content is the most frequently visited resource for health information on the internet.” As such, there is an opportunity for Wikimedia communities to increase access to information about suicide prevention as a topic of significant impact. 

In order to identify possible ways to improve how readers access suicide-related information, the Wikimedia Research Team recently developed an interactive tool to visualize navigation of readers using the publicly available clickstream dataset.This tool allows us to investigate in detail how readers navigate potentially harmful content. Most readers reach the Suicide Methods article, for example, from an external search engine, and only few readers actually come from another Wikipedia article. We can also see which of the more than 360 links in the article readers follow the most often. Alarmingly, most clicks to links inside the article are to articles on specific methods discussed in the Suicide Methods article. 

Some suicide-related Wikipedia articles feature prominent hatnotes at the top of the page, containing links to articles like Suicide Prevention. Approximately one-third of the 8,000 readers in July 2021 reached the Suicide Prevention article through one of these notes. As such, increasing the visibility of articles on prevention and intervention appears to be a promising approach to improve suicide-related articles. Expertise and content on suicide prevention and mental health that reflects the diversity of Wikimedia communities is needed to ensure readers around the world have access to resources that reflects their lived experiences.

Mental health has risen as a global priority during the COVID-19 pandemic, and suicide prevention research is developing rapidly. We encourage Wikimedians around the world to learn more about best practices for reporting on suicide in the WHO’s LIVE LIFE report, and to help to improve the Wikimedia projects’ coverage of this crucial topic using local research.

If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of suicide, help is available. Check out Wikipedia’s list of mental health resources for information on who to contact in your area.  Community members are welcome to translate these resources and add additional resources specific to your communities.