It appears that search engine giant Google has taken it upon themselves to attempt to prevent suicides by prompting help for those who search for possibly suicide-driven queries. The first result in a Google search for “ways to commit suicide” is a red telephone with a hotline number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Other searches, such as “suicide”, “suicide prevention”, “i want to die”, “how to die” and “suicidal” all yield the same first result.
I read today in The New York Times that this is the second time that Google has added such prompts for emergency-related queries. The first time was last month when the search engine began providing a phone number for the national poison control hotline after searches like “poison emergency.”
Unfortunately, in both instances, Google isn’t exactly readings minds. A potentially suicidal internet surfer may type in “i want to take my life” or “i hope i die”, but the red telephone doesn’t pop up first. And queries like “i swallowed poison” don’t prompt the poison control hotline. “We looked at many of the possible queries that could reflect interest in the topic,” Dr. Zeiger said about Google’s efforts. “We are starting relatively conservatively.”
While it is a large, humane gesture from the search giant, I am curious to see if Google publishes any stats in the near future to validate that the new search results have indeed decreased suicides and poison-related deaths.