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A Comparative Study of Online Suicide-Related Information in Chinese and English

J Clin Psychiatry 2011;72(3):313-319
10.4088/JCP.09m05440blu

Objective: This study analyzed the online suicide-related contents of Chinese-language Web sites compared with contents observed in an American study that considered English-language Web sites, so as to examine what differences there might be between Chinese online information and its English counterpart.

Method: Online contents were generated by entering 4 suicide-related search queries into 5 popular search engines (Google China, Yahoo! China, Live search, Baidu, and Sogou) in mainland China in September 2008. The search queries were simplified Chinese translations of terms used in a 2008 American study that used similar methodology: Zi Sha (suicide), Ru He Zi Sha (how to commit suicide), Zen Yang Zi Sha (how to kill yourself), and Zi Sha Fang Fa (suicide method). Three coders from mainland China reviewed the first 3 pages of results from each search and rated their contents in terms of the attitude toward suicide reflected therein (pro-suicide, anti-suicide, neutral, not a suicide site, or error [page would not load]). Other characteristics of the Web sites were analyzed. The results were then compared with those of the earlier study of English-language Web sites.

Results: Of the Chinese Web sites, a smaller proportion carried pro-suicide information compared with the corresponding results obtained from the study of English-language Web sites (4.2% vs 11.7%), whereas the proportion of anti-suicide Web sites in both languages was almost the same (32.3% vs 34.9%). Anti-suicide Web sites in Chinese, however, provided less information on seeking help, and there were fewer government or professional mental health Web sites in Chinese (1.3% vs 13.3%). The pro-suicide information on Chinese Web sites was mostly found in personal blogs or online forums.

Conclusion: Psychiatrists and public health researchers dealing with suicide prevention in China should be aware of the differences between online suicide-related information in the Chinese and English languages.

J Clin Psychiatry

Submitted: June 12, 2009; accepted September 16, 2009.

Online ahead of print: September 7, 2010 (doi:10.4088/JCP.09m05440blu).

Corresponding author: Qijin Cheng, MA, Department of Social Work and Social Administration, 13th Floor, K. K. Leung Bldg, The University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam, Hong Kong SAR (chengqj@hku.hk).