Culture, Media and Sport CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by PAPYRUS Prevention of Young Suicide


PAPYRUS has campaigned since 2004 for better regulation of the online promotion of suicide.

Amongst the many dangers posed by the internet, its use to promote suicide receives relatively little attention.

Young people, for whom the internet is a primary source of information, are particularly vulnerable to websites and chatrooms promoting suicide. For those young people who are suicidal or are vulnerable because of a mental health concern, such platforms can pose a particular danger.

The Government has made clear that the law which prevents encouraging or assisting suicide applies online as much as offline, but no prosecution for online assistance has been made in this country.

ISPs should block websites and chatrooms which deliberately promote suicide. In the absence of this parents should have to “opt in” to suicide sites in the same way as is proposed for other sites posing a danger to children and young people.

Bodies such as IWF and CEOP should include suicide within their remit—at present both exclude it.


1. PAPYRUS Prevention of Young Suicide is a national charity dedicated to the prevention of young suicide. Originally started by parents who had all lost a son or daughter to suicide it is now open to all who share our aims, although many of its members have personal experience of a young person’s suicide.

2. Suicide is one of the biggest causes of death amongst young people; every year in the UK between 600 and 800 young people between the ages of 15 and 24 take their own lives—a number equivalent to the population of a small secondary school; under the age of 35, the number rises further. According to the ONS statistics published on suicides in 2011,1 the total number of those who took their own lives before they reached 35 years of age was over 1700.

3. In the early years of the century, PAPYRUS became aware of several young people who had killed themselves after downloading information from websites giving specific information and advice on how to take one’s own life and/or having participated in chatrooms where advice and encouragement was given on killing oneself. Since 2004 it has campaigned for the removal, or at least some regulation, of such sites.

4. Much of the public concern about the dangers of the internet has centred on its use to promote pornography, bullying, eating disorders and self harm; these are important areas of concern both in their own right and because they may play a significant part in leading vulnerable people to consider and attempt suicide. But the suicide sites themselves are uniquely dangerous in that they can—and do—lead directly to deaths of vulnerable young people. They also provide information which is not available from other sources. You will not find a book in W H Smith’s describing in graphic and lurid detail the various ways of killing yourself; you can find this (sometimes with pictures) on the internet. And of course this can be accessed by children and vulnerable young people 24 hours a day, in the privacy of their own home or elsewhere from computers and other e-devices. My own son took his own life aged 17, after downloading such information from the internet.

5. For many young people the internet has become the primary source of information; coupled with the pressures of growing up, sometimes exacerbated by mental ill-health, there is a particular confluence of danger. And although PAPYRUS’s particular concern is for young people many others who are vulnerable, again through mental illness or for other reasons, are also all too easily exposed to the dangers of the sites. When PAPYRUS began campaigning it knew of four young people who had killed themselves with the aid of the internet. Some time ago the number of internet-related suicides of which we were aware passed 50 and we are sure that this is a considerable underestimate—no figures are collected centrally and this figure was obtained merely through unofficial press monitoring. Many coroners have expressed concern about the impact of the internet in cases of suicide.

6. The 1961 Suicide Act made it illegal to aid, abet, counsel or procure a suicide. The Coroners and Justice Act 2009 amended the law by updating the language to refer simply to assisting and encouraging suicide, whilst making it clear that the law applies to online actions in exactly the same way as it does offline.2 PAPYRUS contends that sites and chatrooms promoting suicide may be illegal in that they can—and do—assist and encourage others to take their own lives; however no prosecution has taken place in this country.3 We believe that the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should take action to block such sites in the same way as they do for other illegal sites, such as child pornography.

7. In his speech on 22nd July the Prime Minister called on the ISPs to provide to all new customers family friendly filters covering all devices in a household, which can only be switched off by the householder; and to extend this in due course to all existing customers—in effect an “opt-in” approach despite the fact that this has previously been eschewed by the Government. PAPYRUS warmly welcomes the Prime Minister’s intervention and believes that the filters must automatically block dangerous sites and chatrooms which promote suicide. (TalkTalk has told us that the category most blocked by parents using their existing filters is suicide/self harm.) We have written to the Prime Minister seeking his assurance that the suicide sites will be encompassed within these new arrangements. We trust that this will have the support of your committee also.

8. The internet can, of course, also be beneficial in countering suicide and in providing support to those who are suicidal; PAPYRUS’s own helpline4 provides professional advice and information by telephone, email or text messaging, to those concerned that a young person may be at risk of suicide and to young people who are themselves having thoughts of suicide. It has sometimes been argued than any blocking of harmful suicide sites must of necessity also block helpful sites; we have always believed that it is perfectly possible to retain access to the helpful sites and were pleased to note that the Prime Minister acknowledged this in his speech and has asked UKCCISS to lead work to ensure that this is so. We stand ready to assist in this work.

9. Although these recent advances have focussed on protecting children and the young (and we warmly welcome them as such) we believe that the dubious legality of the websites and chatrooms provides sufficient grounds for ISPs to block them for all users. There is also a moral justification for doing so; anyone seeking access to them is likely to be vulnerable, either generically or at that particular time.

10. One of the proven ways of reducing suicides is to limit access to the means of killing oneself. This is highlighted in the current National Suicide Prevention Strategy in Area for Action 35 and a recent study has confirmed the effectiveness of limiting the numbers of paracetamol sold in individual packets.6 The National Suicide Prevention Strategy for England states (para3.3) that “The internet is a ready source of detailed information concerning the use of lethal suicide methods.” The young and vulnerable can and should be protected from easy access both to information on the means of killing themselves and indeed to the means themselves, through suicide paraphernalia and kits sold online.

11. One of the difficulties in pursuing the dangers of suicide promotion online is that there is no central body to which relevant concerns can be expressed. Neither the industry body—the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF)—nor the Government’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) regards suicide as falling within their remit. We have asked repeatedly for this to change and believe that real benefits would ensue if this were to happen.

September 2013


2 Ministry of Justice Circular 2010–03

3 A former nurse has been convicted in Minnesota of assisting suicide online, including that of one person in England

4 HOPELineUK 0800 068 41 41



Prepared 18th March 2014