LONDON — The popular social media platform Reddit contains countless “subreddits” which cater to specific topics users enjoy discussing. For instance, r/coronavirus ballooned to over two million members last year. There’s even a subreddit called r/suicidewatch that provides a safe space for suicide peer support and conversation. Researchers from Kings College London took a hard look at posting activity on the suicide-related forum on reddit and noticed that Mondays show a concerning trend.
The study concludes users are most likely to post on r/suicidewatch in the early morning hours on Mondays. Even beyond Mondays, the research depicts “a clear variation in behavior throughout the week and throughout the day.” Ultimately, the team behind these findings hope these newly identified trends can help outreach and support groups better find and help those in need when they need it most.
“Monday has often been identified as the day of the week which has the highest risk of someone taking their own life. From the data that we’ve studied, we can see a clear trend over weekly cycles that closely follows the suicide timing patterns reported in some earlier studies,” says Dr. Rina Dutta, the study’s primary investigator from King’s IoPPN, in a university release.
Do sleep issues connect to suicidal thoughts?
Study authors assessed data from to December 2008 through August 2015 during their project. In all, the team reviewed 90,518 posts. Over any given week, researchers say the subreddit saw the most posts between 2AM and 5AM on Monday mornings. From there, post frequency would usually trend downward from Tuesday to Saturday.
For comparison’s sake, another popular subreddit called r/AskReddit showed completely different activity trends, with users posting most often late at night.
Study authors speculate that the timing of the suicide-related posts suggest a connection to insomnia and sleep issues. As such, sleep disturbances may “represent a potentially modifiable risk factor for suicidal thoughts and behaviors.”
“Extensive use of social media has been associated with disturbed sleep, anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. Reducing the use of social media during the night hours might be an effective means of providing targeted psychological interventions in some individuals,” Dr. Dutta adds.
“Given that we have a clear indication as to when at risk people are posting to this forum, it is challenging but certainly not implausible to envisage providing higher levels of moderation on Reddit during times of increased posting about suicidality. If developed in the right way, we might have the capacity to target otherwise unreachable populations to deliver suicide prevention messaging and interventions where and when they are needed most,” she concludes.
The study appears in the journal BMC Psychiatry.