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SNS effective as suicide prevention hotline tool: health ministry

TOKYO -- The use of social networking services (SNS) as suicide hotlines has shown considerable potential, according to a trial conducted by nonprofit organizations in cooperation with the health ministry, it has been learned.

Current suicide hotlines are primarily telephone-based, but in some cases, the consultants felt they were better able to learn the honest feelings of those in crisis via SNS than by phone, leading the health ministry to conclude that social networking services can be an effective tool in suicide prevention.

The move to make SNS suicide hotlines available was prompted by a case in which nine young people, who had expressed their suicidal thoughts on the internet, were found murdered in a man's home in the Kanagawa Prefecture city of Zama in October of last year. The trial ran this past March, which is Suicide Awareness Month in Japan, with 13 nonprofit and other organizations dealing with a total of 10,129 consultations.

Excluding conversations that failed to pan out, the most common length of consultations were between 30 minutes to an hour, comprising approximately one-third of the total number, or 2,912 consultations. Some 25 percent, or 2,222 of the discussions, lasted between an hour and 90 minutes, while 10 percent, or 872 consultations, lasted two to three hours -- meaning that over 50 percent of talks lasted at least an hour. According to the health ministry, there was a tendency for SNS consultations to last longer than phone discussions.

Line was by far the most common social networking service used in the consultations. Of those seeking help, 82 percent were people aged 29 and under, and 88 percent were women. Among those who sought help, the most frequently cited problem, at 20 percent, or 2,357 cases, was mental unwellness. This was followed by 10 percent, or 1,187 cases, in which people said they had issues with family members.

The organizations that took part in the trial gave positive feedback on the use of SNS for consultations, including the fact that they were able to get in contact with and provide support to people who do not do well communicating in person or on the phone, and also the usefulness of SNS chats in allowing consultants to seamlessly switch off shifts and continue discussions thanks to records that remain of what have been previously said in the conversations. At the same time, there was negative feedback on the use of SNS for suicide prevention consultations, one being that consultants could not see the other parties' reactions.

The results of the health ministry's analysis of the trials will be incorporated into a white paper on the government's suicide prevention measures for this year, which will be approved by the Cabinet in the near future. The ministry says it hopes to aggregate know-how on providing suicide prevention consults and support, and apply the information in creating training curriculums for suicide prevention consultants.

(Japanese original by Go Kumagai, Medical Welfare News Department)

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