The rate of death by suicide has astonishingly risen by around 25% in the United States during the last two decades, according to a report published by The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last June. Even though the reasons underlying the rise in the incidence of suicide are not entirely clear, the report pointed to the increased use of technology, as an important cause as it has replaced important real life face-to-face interactions.
Why does the darknet represent a safe haven for individuals with suicidal ideation?
Within the broad area associated with use of technology, a new phenomenon known as “cyber-suicide” has emerged during the past few years. Researchers have proposed an explanation of the “ambivalent self” in depressed individuals, who search online for suicide related content, by introducing a new concept of an internal split between an individual’s “suicidal part” (SP) and “non-suicidal part” (NSP) within the personality framework. This is supported by psychoanalytic theories and pillared on a broader concept of the psychological structure of one’s ego as a split between two rival parts, and different states of mind, which compete for the control over the vulnerable individual and their capacity to tolerate and cope with emotional pain and the stresses of reality. The recognition and awareness of an inner split between the SP and NSP of an individual with suicidal ideation who goes online, and how this influences virtual internet based relationships, in addition to external relationships, such as in psychotherapy, represents an essential understanding for modern psychotherapy and risk management in the age of the world wide web.
As such, the anonymity offered by the darknet provides individuals with suicidal ideation and the freedom to present their suicidal thoughts or even post their suicide notes before actually committing suicide, representing a safe haven for the SP to present itself. On the other hand, some might even try to order lethal substances via darknet marketplaces that they can use to commit suicide. More recently, child suicide video games have been sold over some darknet marketplaces.
Research studies linking suicide to the deep web:
A recently published paper attempted to document the existence and accessibility of suicide related content presently available on TOR and various forms of darknets. Authors of the paper used a group of eight specialized TOR Darknet search engines to identify darknet websites that involve discussions related to suicide. The search engines they used included TORCH “the TOR search engine”, Ahmia, Notevil, the Hidden Wiki, Candle, Grams, Darknet (onion.link), and Duckduckgo. They also used a pair of independently coded research assistants to retrieve 30 websites that were related to the keywords “suicide” and “suicide methods”.
Interestingly enough, in 2016, a 28-year-old white man committed suicide by poisoning himself with cyanide that he ordered over the deep web, most probably via Silk Road 2.0, yet the exact source was never accurately documented. Forensic examination of the crime scene revealed a probable complex suicide kit that included cyanide, as a lethal substance, and dextromethorphan, as an anxiolytic and sedative substance. Researchers considered this case as an original instance of the emerging darknet marketplace shopping in illegal substance procurement.
There also many forums where individuals with suicidal ideation can come together. One of those websites was a hidden service that existed in the grey area between legality and illegality; the edge between empathy and what might be considered as sinfulness. “Sanctioned Suicide” was a forum to talk about any subject related to suicide from suicidal ideas and fantasies, to actual methods for committing suicide. It was a safe and entirely anonymous place where anyone could discuss their darkest thoughts. Even though it involved discussions centered on various ways to commit suicide, Sanctioned Suicide also included many sections that offered advice to help depressed individuals love living again and change their minds about terminating their lives.
On the other hand, “Suicide Tips and Tricks” was one of the most disturbing websites while browsing the deep web. It was a forum that had been established to help people find a way to commit suicide. Discussions there included asking about the best knot to use to hang one’s-self, the least painless way to die, how to die while high, etc. Users of the forum also discussed the reasons that led them to think about committing suicide. Reasons included joblessness, lack of money, terminal illnesses, loss of hope, drug addiction, psychological disturbances, and others.