Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Youth’s Online Activity May Point to Subsequent Suicidal Behaviors

The types of online content that youth explore and the messages they share with others may help identify those most likely to be at high risk of a suicide attempt or self-harm, a study in JAMA Network Open suggests. The greatest risk was found among youth who engaged in multiple types of online risk factors, such as expressing feelings of prolonged hopelessness and participating in cyberbullying.

“The findings of this study suggest that many discrete types of risk factors are identifiable from online data and associated with subsequent youth suicide-related behavior,” wrote Steven A. Sumner, M.D., M.Sc., of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and colleagues.

Sumner and colleagues analyzed data drawn from more than 2,600 U.S. schools participating in online safety monitoring using a program called Bark. This software monitors and sends alerts to school administrators and parents about content “threatening to the health and well-being of students, such as messages about self-harm, suicidal ideation, online predators, bullying, or threats of violence,” they wrote.

Between July 27, 2019, and May 26, 2020, the Bark online safety tool sent a severe suicide/self-harm alert requiring notification of school administrators for 227 youth. The researchers compared the online behaviors of these youth with those of five controls each (youth enrolled in the same school who participated in a similar volume of online activity) to examine whether there were differences between the two groups that preceded the notifications about the severe suicide/self-harm alert. The mean age of the youth in the analysis was 13.3 years.

The researchers focused on youth’s engagement in the following eight online behaviors: cyberbullying, drug-related content, sexual content, violence, hate speech, profanity, depression, and low-severity suicide/self-harm alerts (defined as third-party content viewed but not sent by the user that is related to suicide or self-harm). Although engagement in each of these eight online behaviors was associated with increased risk of a severe suicide/self-harm alert, viewing depression-related content had the highest association with subsequent severe suicide/self-harm alerts (adjusted odds ratio, 1.82), the authors noted. Youth with five or more of the eight risk factors present in their online activity had a more than 70-fold increased odds of subsequently having a severe suicide/self-harm alert.

“The findings support the importance of understanding and preventing exposure to harmful online activities among youths as a component of youth suicide prevention strategies,” Sumner and colleagues wrote. “Although there are important ethical and privacy considerations when using online, digital, or linked data, efforts to improve mental health using passive digital information or other administrative data are being researched, tested, and used. Conducted carefully and ethically, such approaches have the potential to help prevent devastating outcomes for families, such as youth suicide.”

For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “Rise in Youth Suicide Rates Confounds Experts.”

(Image: iStock/Ridofranz)

HHS Announces $25.5 Billion in New COVID-19 Provider Relief Funding

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has announced $25.5 billion in new COVID-19 provider funding. The funding includes $8.5 billion in American Rescue Plan resources for providers who serve rural Medicaid, Children's Health Insurance Program, or Medicare patients, and an additional $17 billion for Provider Relief Fund (PRF) Phase 4 for a broad range of providers who can document revenue loss and expenses associated with the pandemic. Providers are strongly encouraged to complete their report in the PRF Reporting Portal by September 30 but those who cannot meet the deadline will be granted a 60-day grace period, which will end on November 30.


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