Online chat rooms can provide positive support network for troubled teens

Online chatrooms and forums can have a positive effect on young people's lives, providing users with a community, support and coping strategies, a new Oxford University report has said.

It did also note however that the widely reported negative aspects linked to suicide and self harm are present, with correlations between Internet exposure and violent methods of self-harm and suicide being identified.

The positive impacts of the Internet however, may outstrip the negative, the research found.

Oxford researchers analysed and compared 14 different pre-existing studies into how young people use the Internet in order to compile the report.

"Youth who self-harm or are suicidal often make use of the Internet," the report reads. "It is most commonly used for constructive reasons such as seeking support and coping strategies, but may exert a negative influence, normalising self-harm and potentially discouraging disclosure or professional help-seeking."

Moving forward, it was concluded that much further research is needed to better understand how the Internet may exert negative influences, as well as how the Internet could be utilised to intervene with vulnerable young people.

Report author Professor Keith Hawton said: "Communication via the Internet and other electronic means has potential roles in both contributing to and preventing suicidal behaviour in young people.

"The next step is going to be development of therapeutic interventions using these channels of communication, especially to access those who do not seek help from clinical services."

Commenting on the report, Joe Ferns of the Samaritans told the BBC: "We should acknowledge that many people are using suicide forums and chatrooms to anonymously discuss their feelings of distress and despair, including suicidal thoughts, which may have a positive impact on the individual. They may be expressing feelings that they have never disclosed to anyone in their offline lives.

"Rather than concentrating primarily on ways of blocking and censoring such sites, we should think about online opportunities to reach out to people in emotional distress."