We Analyzed Thousands of Student Web Searches About Suicide. Here’s What We Learned

In our day-to-day work at Lightspeed Systems, we’ve seen how a deeper understanding of user behavior can lead to life-saving interventions, particularly for students dealing with mental health challenges.

We recently released a detailed report on cyberbullying trends based on a survey of parents and IT professionals in the K-12 community. We learned that cyberbullying is on the rise, and many agreed that an increase in young people’s access to technology has played a key role in the problem.

Thankfully, the growth in access to technology has given us better insight into how students behave online, what schools can do to monitor student activity, and how they can address safety threats.

One of the biggest threats to student safety is suicide. It’s our mission at Lightspeed Systems to provide tools that not only improve student learning outcomes, but also identify and remediate dangerous online behavior. Those tools include robust activity reports and alerts to keep students safe at all times, no matter where they use school devices.

We drilled into a month’s worth of student search data related to suicide to help you better understand what students are searching for online. Use these takeaways to customize your Flagged Terms in Relay and identify suicide threats in your community.

*Please note our data collection and findings are generalized and anonymized to protect student data privacy. You can read more about our commitment to privacy here.


1. The volume of searches related to suicide is low.

For the purposes of this research, we analyzed search queries from September 2017 in our Relay customer database. Of the more than 107 million search queries, only 0.05% of those pertained to suicide.

It’s important to note that many searches containing the word “suicide” were related to pop culture references, such as the 2016 movie “Suicide Squad.”

Here’s a list of the most common, suicide-related terms.

Top Search Terms or Phrases Containing the Word “Suicide”
(in order from highest frequency to lowest)

  • suicide squad
    suicide boys
    suicide quotes
    suicide forest
    suicide squad gif
    suicide memes
    suicide notes
    suicide prevention
    suicide quotes tumblr
    suicide prevention slogans for teens
    suicide squad sexualized harley quinn
    native american suicide
    suicide prevention posters
    suicide hotline
    suicide meme
    suicide prevention drawings
    suicide prevention slogans
    edgy suicide memes

2. Suicide prevention is a popular student search.

When we did a deep dive into searches related to suicide, we found that 10% of them were for terms and phrases relating to suicide prevention (such as “suicide prevention” and “suicide prevention posters”). A smaller percentage of searches (about 2%) was related to students searching for “suicide hotline.”

Top Search Phrases Relating to Suicide Prevention
(in order from highest frequency to lowest)

  • suicide prevention how to help someone
    how to prevent suicide
    how to help prevent someone committing suicide
    how to help someone contemplating suicide
    how to support someone that is thinking about suicide

3. Searches relating to suicidal ideation were low, but important to study.

Compared to all suicide-related search data, “how to” searches were relatively low: 0.6%.

That said, data shows there were hundreds of students who searched these troubling terms, and IT departments should be immediately alerted in those instances.

When customizing your Flagged Terms in Relay, it’s a good idea to add phrases like “how to commit suicide.” According to our data, this is the most common “how to” query containing “suicide.”

Notably, we also observed students searching how-to’s about suicide prevention. “How to help someone contemplating suicide” and “suicide prevention how to help someone” are some examples of queries that indicate students may perceive safety threats to their loved ones.

4. Targeted Flagged Terms are essential to identifying threats.

Although an increase in access to technology has led to a rise in cyberbullying, we also believe technology is helping students better understand complicated issues like suicide, and seek out resources to learn and potentially help others.

To gain maximum insight, IT pros should keep an eye on filter reports and set targeted Flagged Terms beyond just the word “suicide.” This will help filter out noise (e.g. pop culture references) that doesn’t indicate danger to students.

Furthermore, having more context about suicide-prevention searches may also lead to positive outcomes. For instance, school administrations may be able to provide support to students who are fearful of suicide threats to fellow students, friends or family members.

Keeping kids safe is our passion at Lightspeed Systems, and with powerful features in Relay and Web Filter 3: Longhorn, our customers have the tools to curb safety threats in K-12.

In Relay, the Flagged Terms report identifies all search terms and page content that have been flagged as inappropriate. The report also includes each term’s danger level, number of flags, and number of users who viewed or created content related to the specific term. Relay does real-time page analysis to identify dangerous search terms, page content, and phrases typed into Google Docs and emails.

IT departments using Relay can set up flagged search alerts, which trigger real-time email notifications to admins anytime these Flagged Terms are found on the network. We recommend setting “how to” suicide phrases as Flagged Terms, assigning them high importance ratings, and customizing notifications to send immediately.

“If you are serious about the safety of students’ online activities, especially with Chromebooks, you can’t afford to cut corners,” said Andrew Moore, IT director at Glenns Ferry School District. “Relay is a great tool for monitoring and reporting on Chromebook use. It’s simple, sleek and works well!”

In Web Filter 3: Longhorn, the Suspicious Search Queries Report gives IT teams a detailed picture of suspicious search terms (blocked and allowed) so you can take action as needed.

“Suspicious search reports have done a lot of good in the lives in some of our students who needed help but didn’t ask,” said Zach Miller, district technician for Manitou Springs School District.

If you’d like to share your own best practices for monitoring student device usage, please leave your tips in the comments section.

To learn more about how Lightspeed Systems can help keep your students safe on any device, any OS, request a demo now.

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