An Examination of Internet Search Behavior and Completed Suicide Rates Across the United States
Date of Submission
Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)
Stephanie Felgoise, PhD, ABPP
Stephen Poteau, PhD
Robert DiTomasso, PhD, ABPP
Michael Roberts, PsyD
Suicide remains a leading cause of death in the US (CDC, 2021; Murphy et al., 2018). The literature has shown that individuals seeking information on personal or sensitive topics are likely to utilize the internet (Jacobs et al., 2017; Mok et al., 2015; Pew Research Center, 2019). Research also suggests that internet search behavior can be utilized to track and predict disease outbreak effectively, as well as other public health trends across the nation (Paparrizos et al., 2016; Parker, et al., 2017). Moreover, implicit associations related to suicide have been identified as strong predictors of future suicide (Millner et al., 2018; Nock & Banaji, 2007; Nock et al., 2010). Therefore, internet search behavior related to suicide (especially that which reflects implicit associations between suicide and self) should be explored in order to determine if meaningful relationships exist between search activity and trends in suicide deaths. The purpose of this study was to determine whether a relationship exists between internet search behavior related to suicide and the completed suicide rate throughout the US. Hypotheses for this study were that suicide-related searches are positively predictive of the number of deaths by suicide, while life-affirming searches are negatively predictive of the number of deaths by suicide. In addition, it was hypothesized that frequency of searches for suicide-related terms are higher during the peak suicide month for each state in 2019. Search data from Google trends was statistically analyzed, along with CDC suicide mortality statistics for 2019. Results indicate that the search phrases how to kill myself and painless death were predictive of completed suicide nationally during 2019. Findings could help to inform future suicide prevention strategies utilizing technology.
Rhoads, Marie Louise, "An Examination of Internet Search Behavior and Completed Suicide Rates Across the United States" (2021). PCOM Psychology Dissertations. 566.