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An ad that saves lives: Psychologist works to prevent suicide using Google Ads

Dio Suhenda

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Wed, October 7, 2020  /  09:32 am
An ad that saves lives: Psychologist works to prevent suicide using Google Ads

An Indonesian psychologist is developing a website that will show up as a Google advertisement whenever an internet user runs a search using keywords related to suicide. (Shutterstock/mirtmirt)

Seven months on, the COVID-19 outbreak in Indonesia shows no signs of receding, ultimately taking a toll on mental health, including triggering suicidal thoughts among some people.

A survey from the University of Indonesia’s School of Medicine (FKUI) found that more than three in 10 adult respondents suffered from depressive symptoms during the early days of the pandemic – five times higher than in normal times. Moreover, half of these respondents revealed that they had experienced suicidal thoughts.

Sadly, the country’s healthcare system is far from sufficient to provide care to every person with mental health issues. As such, many look to the internet to find solutions to their problems or, worse, how to actually commit suicide. 

Read also: Nondepressed teens can have suicidal thoughts, expert says

These troubling circumstances are what motivated Indonesian psychologist and researcher, Sandersan “Sandy” Onie, to find a solution.

“I’m worried that if someone has suicidal thoughts, they will look into how to kill themselves on the internet, which will actually show them how to do it. That’s not good, and something has to be done,” he told The Jakarta Post recently.

In response, Sandy started a suicide prevention project utilizing the Google Ads platform, which places ads above search results, as he believed there was a correlation between the number of suicides occurring in the country and the number of searches using suicide-related keywords. The advertisements are sustained using a Google grant.

Psychologist Sandersan OniePsychologist Sandersan Onie (Handout/Sandersan Onie)

The project aims to direct people who search for suicide-related keywords on Google to the project’s landing page, which will be launched in early 2021. Sandy has sought advice from people who have suffered from suicidal thoughts to develop the project.

“So, if someone types ‘I want to kill myself’ as the keyword, the first ad to show will be our landing page. The page will show messages encouraging them to seek help as well as assuring them that they are safe,” said Sandy.

Working with the Indonesian Psychology Association (HIMPSI) and other organizations, Sandy wants the project to be an inclusive platform, in which people from different demographics can collaborate to make the website relevant to everyone.

“It’s important for the landing page to be relevant to everyone [regardless of their background]. We only have a short amount of time to save the person [from their suicidal thoughts], so the page should be as effective as possible.”

Sandy expressed hope the project would help Indonesian psychologists who had been overwhelmed during the pandemic. According to the Indonesia’s Clinical Psychology Association (IPK), only 194 psychologists have provided psychological counseling in 26 provinces during the pandemic. They give psychological assistance to more than 14,000 patients, including fellow medical workers and COVID-19 patients.

Read also: Reaching out, resilience, key to tackling mental health problems during pandemic

Sandy hopes the website will be a cost-effective solution capable of reaching out to a large number of people in need. Moreover, Google Adwords will allow the message to be tailored to the user’s age, gender, location and language of choice.

“Say someone in [Central] Java is searching for how to commit suicide, he or she will read a message from our Google ad in Javanese that is also suitable for their age. This way, the message will be relevant to various users,” Sandy said.

Suicide is a major problem plaguing the country. The Health Ministry revealed in 2019 that suicide claims almost 9,000 Indonesian lives annually.

The ministry also highlighted that 62 percent of people suffering from mental health issues cannot access treatment due to, among other issues, a lack of psychologists across the country. People suffering from mental illnesses also continue to face stigma, which discourages them from seeking professional help.


The writer is an intern at The Jakarta Post

Editor's note: The article has been updated for clarity.

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