Designing for suicidal users: preventing suicide the modern way

Every month, over half a million people in the US make suicide-related searches on Google. The automated response that is supposed stop them and save lives feels lifeless.

This needs to change now.

Back in college, I was that 1 in 5 college students who suffer from anxiety and depression. Pressure from trying to get good grades, looking for jobs, relationships, and becoming an adult drowned me with worries (often innocuous ones now I look back).

One time in junior year, I had a surprisingly exhausting day — one of those days when you’ve already completely filled up your calendar, but new meetings and problems endlessly show up. That night, I lied in bed overtired yet wide awake from paranoia. After failing to fall asleep for almost 3 hours, I got up and Googled,

“how to die easily”

And this is what I saw.

Let me make myself clear. Yes, I was mildly depressed but I wasn’t seriously suicidal. I was triggered mostly by twisted frustration (exacerbated by lack of sleep), than by an actual suicide ideation.

But even to me “You’re not alone, confidential help is available for free. Call 1–800–273–8255” sounded very much aloof and merely political. It’s as if someone was crying out for help, and you’re just flicking a name card of a therapist without even looking in their eyes.

Thankfully, I scoffed at it and eventually fell asleep. But to this day, I can’t imagine how frivolous the “support” must look to those who are actually desperate to end their lives. It was a lazy mechanical response with a bland sincerity like water.

Author: Lucas Chae ?

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