Suicide and the Internet – an interview with Romeo Vitelli

Q1) Dr. Vitelli, you`ve been blogging on “Media Spotlight” a few years now. What is your general approach when it comes to creating a new entry?

I try to keep to a regular schedule of one post a week, usually focusing on an interesting new research study that isn’t getting the attention it deserves.


Q2) Have you noticed changes in the media in those years concerning the way suicide is spoken about?

Media outlets are usually more careful about how suicides are being reported, especially given the very real concern about copycat deaths.  For the most part, suicides are much less likely to be sensationalized and responsible news outlets follow recommended guidelines about how such deaths should be reported.


Q3) Do you think social media can help get rid of suicide being a taboo topic and if so, how?

It’s hard to say, the rise in anonymous trolling and cyber bullying has meant that vulnerable people can face attacks like never before.   While people contemplating suicide have access to resources that can help, the risks they face online are greater as well.


Q4) Feeling connected is an important protective factor when it comes to suicide. But looking at pro-suicide-websites, isn`t this exactly what makes them so dangerous?

Again, it depends on the site.  Some of these sites are legitimate sources of emotional support and guidance that can help people on the edge find help.  Others are much more irresponsible and destructive.  Which is what makes the Internet such a minefield.


Q5) Have you been following the recent stories about the “Blue Whale Challenge”? What are your thoughts about that?

I really hadn’t been aware of it until you brought it to my attention.  While it will likely fade away like most new trends, hopefully, it won’t cause too much harm.


Q6) What might be going on in the mind of a young person contemplating suicide?

Everybody contemplating suicide will do it for different reasons.   When young people feel they have no hope or that nothing will get better, they may well decide to end it all.   Even for young people who reach out to others, they might find themselves dealing with denial or people who are unprepared to deal with a suicidal person.


Q7) How can social media help prevent suicide?

Much like in real life, recognizing that people are in pain and trying to help them cope with that pain may be what they need most.   There are limits to what can be done online however, this is why suicidal people need to be encouraged to seek help as soon as possible.


Q8) How can we as friends or family recognize that our beloved one is on the edge of ending their own life? What can we do to help?

There are good online sites that can be useful such as this one:

Also, when dealing with someone who is suicidal, it is essential that they be encouraged to seek professional help as soon as possible.  Even offering to go with them when they make that first connection with a professional can have a powerful influence.

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  1. I never actually realized that we really DON’T get any news on suicides. It makes sense, but I still feel like maybe their lives should be honored as well, since suicide is still a death, and still tragic.

  2. I don’t think suicides should be broadcast. They should be mourned by those that knew and loved the person. Plastering suicides all over the news would be hurting the families and loved ones of those who are showed on the news. I think communities should come together of their own will in a time such as loss and the media belongs nowhere in it. I honestly believe that people shouldn’t show their mourning on facebook. It is a private feeling that should not be broadcast to the world as though it is what someone ate for lunch that day.

  3. Suicide is such a hot button topic in today’s pop-culture society and I love how this interview hits points like the sensationalization of it. With recent phenomena like “13 Reasons Why” stepping into the spotlight its important to get professionals’ opinions on the way suicide is portrayed and viewed in today’s media. It’s interesting as well to see this interview touch on the positive side to social media’s relationship with suicide. It’s so common, especially in schools, to see people demonized social media as a dark place full of web trolls and anonymous hate mail that drives teens to suicide, but this article also brings to light the “safe spaces” of the internet that seek to educate and keep people from feeling alone enough to contemplate ending their lives. Despite wholesome places on the internet however, its important that the article reaffirms the need for people feeling suicidal to seek help because it could save their lives.

    If you decide to read this article be sure to check out the link provided about identifying signs of suicidal behaviors. Also check out this psych2go video on the same topic for more visual explanations:

  4. Suicide has always been a controversial topic, and for good reason. Taking your own life is no joke, and as a society it is crucial to identify the struggles and suffering someone could be facing to drive them to this extreme and irreversible end.

    Before delving further into the intricacies of what I think about this article, I would like to share my personal experience with the internet. Suffering from depression for several years now, there’s been multiple points I felt driven to a brink of no return, to a point where I felt I had no other option (I might as well also point out, suicide is never the only option. Never. I swear.) At these points, it wasn’t possible for me to reach out to anyone I knew in real life, for my parents always seemed to think it was somehow their fault, and my friends simply didn’t understand. Therapists have never really worked out for me somehow either. At this point, it was the Internet which really helped me. I was able to reach out to people online, find individuals who understood what I went through, know that I was not alone. Of course, it was no magical cure, but at least for a moment I felt better. The interaction gave me the courage to sit down and talk to my parents, and be able to seek the help of a professional. I am not the most cheerful person you’ll meet, but I am certainly at a better point in life. I know many other people who have similar stories to tell, so it is quite obvious that in this way the internet has certainly had a positive impact on many suicidal individuals.

    Okay, back to the interview. It is certainly something that needs more discussion, the impact media – including the Internet – has on the mental health of suicidal people, and this interview does a fine job of exposing the finer details of the situation. I do think that a short introduction would’ve been helpful, for the sudden rush into the questions took me slightly aback. It would have just helped the reader ease into the interview and get a gist of the content to expect.

    I am glad the media does not sensationalize suicide anymore, for it is a rather fragile topic. The media has always had a tendency to romanticise suicide, with statements such as “an angel returning back to where they belong-” No. Suicide is not pretty, and the horrid suffering one goes through to reach that point isn’t either. It should never seem like suicide is a rational option.

    It would’ve been helpful if it was possible for Dr. Vitelli to highlight some ways to tackle highly dangerous trends such as the Blue Whale challenge. The death toll due to this sickening “game” was shockingly high, and may still continue to rise until dealt with.

    Definitely a good read in all, of course there were a few points which could’ve been improved on, but as they say: practice makes perfect!

  5. What a very informative article.
    I have had social media for awhile, and I have seen a lot of people who want to help those who are suicidal. Sadly, there are people on the Internet who wish to glorify/romanticize it.
    Most people I know have dealt with cyber-bullying, and it’s excellent to shed so much light on these particular dangers.
    I think a little bit more background on Dr. Vitelli would be very helpful. Some more insight on his own life and how he got to where he is is something I would’ve enjoyed reading.
    The WebMD article is one of MANY helpful articles, and if others could’ve been cited that would be excellent as well.
    The interview was definitely informative, but there wasn’t enough details on where to to, and how to help.

    All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this work. It’s classy, informative, and neat.
    But again, more details and background are vital.

    Nice work.