Google 'Suicide' Search Feature Offers Lifeline

Google displays information for support hotline after suicide-related searches.

ByABC News
April 7, 2010, 4:16 PM

April 8, 2010— -- Google may be in the business of search, but one of its newest features could save lives.

Starting last week, Google searches related to suicide started appearing with a message guiding users to the toll-free number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The number is 1-800-273-8255.

Triggered by searches such as "I want to die" or "ways to commit suicide," the number is listed next to an icon of a red telephone, at the top of the search results.

Google said it was the second time the company had included supportive messaging in search results.

A couple of months ago, at the suggestion of a Google user, the Mountain View, Calif. company started displaying the hotline for the American Association of Poison Control Centers after searches for "poison emergency." (If you try it you'll see the poison control number: 1-800-222-1222.)

Jamie Yood, a Google spokesman, said the company received a comment from a mother who said she turned to Google when her child swallowed something she thought was poisonous. But it took her a while to find the emergency phone number that she needed, Yood said.

"It got some people thinking over here that [it] should be front and center," he said. "At the time of an emergency, we should make sure that information is readily available."

After adding the poison emergency feature, Yood said, some Googlers started thinking about other health emergencies for which they could provide quick help.

They reached out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and then figured out which queries would prompt the lifeline information.

He said they tried to pick searches that indicated an immediate health crisis, instead of searches for general, less urgent information. So not all suicide-related searches prompt the message. While "suicidal thoughts" and "how to kill myself" activate the lifeline, "ways to kill myself" and "I want to end my life" do not.

"We basically think that when someone is in a suicidal crisis or emotional distress, they might benefit from calling the suicide prevention hotline," he said.

Yood said these two health-related opportunities immediately made sense to Google, but they're exploring other possibilities that might also make sense.