Google will offer help to users for suicide-related searches

Google’s suggested texts to help those suffering from a mental health crisis  (Google)
Google’s suggested texts to help those suffering from a mental health crisis (Google)

Since 1949, May has been Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States. The campaign aims to raise awareness and reduce the stigma surrounding mental health issues. This year, Google has made a small change to Google Search that could have a big impact on those searching topics related to suicide.

Due to be introduced “soon” across the Atlantic, searches for “suicide-related terms” will reveal a selection of message templates that can instantly be sent to loved ones seeking help.

“These pre-written prompts, developed in partnership with the expertise of the International Association for Suicide Prevention, reduce the stigma of reaching out to ask for help, which is shown to help people get support in moments of crisis,” said Dr Megan Jones Bell, Google’s Clinical Director of Consumer and Mental Health, in a blog post accompanying the announcement.

An accompanying graphic shows how it will look on mobile. Four templates appear above the main search results, each with a “Send a text” action at the bottom. When tapped, the selected text is pasted into the SMS app, ready to send to the contact of your choice. It’s not clear how this will work on desktop, if it’s implemented at all.

The messages vary in their directness, with one example specifically stating the sender feels “suicidal and alone”. Another merely states that the sufferer is “struggling right now”. All of them include a request to talk, which is all-important for people dealing with suicidal thoughts.

Having Google write such a heartfelt, personal message on sufferers’ behalf may feel uncomfortable or unnecessary. But those suffering from depression or other conditions linked to suicidal thoughts sometimes struggle to do everyday activities, let alone bare their soul.

Finding the words for such a vulnerable message would be a challenge for anyone, and a helping hand is certainly welcome. After all, there’s nothing stopping the sender from using the template as a starting point and refining it to their tastes.

While this is good and noble, it’s hard to overlook growing concerns that social media — such as Google’s own YouTube platform — is helping to fuel a mental health crisis of its own. This is especially the case for those who have grown up with such services being a fully established part of life.

Possibly with that in mind, Google used the same blog post to cover some changes related to eating-disorder content. The company is removing “certain content that shows or describes disordered eating behaviours such as binging our purging”. It is also restricting eating-disorder recovery content on YouTube to those aged 18 and over.