New research suggests that people with suicidal tendencies don’t differ from others just because they think about suicidal acts, but because they are not embedded in social ‘neighborhoods’ where their online contacts know each other. It appears that they are isolated in their social graphs:
Spotting Suicidal Tendencies on Social Networks via MIT Technology Review
It turns out the people prone to suicide ideation have about the same number of friends as the control group. This alone does not seem to be a defining characteristic in the online world, where ‘friends’ are easy to come by. Neither does age or gender seem to be an identifying chaacteristic, which flies in the face of previous research.
The warning signals are more subtle, say Masuda and co. For example, people prone to suicide ideation are likely to be members of more community groups than the control group. That may be the result of spending longer online and of a desire to want to interact.
But a key indicator seems to be that these people are much less likely to be members of friendship triangles. In other words, they have fewer friends who also friends of each other. This low density of friendship triangles appears to be a crucial.
So, in terms out outreach, social network analysis — both about regarding content and network context — might be used in the future to help steer people thinking of suicide to help… or maybe we should just introduce their unacquainted friends to each other?