To R;pple or not to R;pple?
This conversation discusses suicide, which some readers might find triggering or distressing.
Over the summer, The University and SU discussed whether to introduce a new in-browser tool to promote support for students who are having suicidal thoughts. The tool responds to specific words used in online searches with messages of support and help. In this ‘Conversations with….’, Blake (SU Community Officer) meets Alice Ludgate (Director of Student Support and Safeguarding) to consider both sides of the discussion and what it means for network PCs used by students.
Blake: Hi Alice, if you could pick one item that represented good mental health, what would you choose?
Alice: There’s lots I’d recommend to look after your mental health but if I had to choose one, I'd say ‘talking’. Whether you talk to friends, family or people at work, I know that talking can really help ease the pressure you might be feeling in your mind and make any problems seem far less tricky. I’m a firm believer in ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’! So if you’re struggling, find one person to talk to, and I’m confident you’ll start to feel better – and if you’re not sure you want to tell someone in your social circle, you could try someone from Mind or Papyrus.
Blake: I’ve heard the Uni are introducing a new safe-browsing tool, R;pple, to pick up search terms related to suicide. What happens when someone searches for this kind of content?
Alice: R;pple is a browser popup that’s triggered when someone searches for words related to suicide. Like lots of apps to help people stay safe, R;pple started with a personal tragedy. Alice Hendy lost her brother, Josh, to suicide in 2020 when he was 21 years old. After his death, the Police discovered Josh had been searching for suicide-related content online. This inspired Alice to create something that might help people in a similar position to Josh to find information that gave hope rather than just harmful content. R;pple automatically pops up when someone searches for terms linked to suicide, and explains some of the people you can reach out to. In doing so, our hope is it could buy someone the time to reach out and speak to someone and put them on a different path.
Blake: Is there are chance R;pple might make someone think about suicide if they weren’t already?
Alice: People often ask this when we’re talking about suicide but actually, it’s a myth. Suicide awareness training will often tell you it’s OK to talk about suicide because it gives someone who might be struggling an indication that this is someone they can talk to.
Blake: So the University will know what I’m searching for? That’s a bit worrying. What do you think about that?
Alice: The University won’t know what you’re searching for, as while we’re installing R;pple onto university devices, we aren’t monitoring what anyone is searching for. There’s no blocks on what you can search for, but if suicide-related terms are included, R;pple automatically pops up. This won’t be fed back to the University or monitored.
Screenshot of the R;pple message displayed when search terms relating to suicide are used.
Blake: How will you know if R;pple has been successful?
Alice. Good question, especially when we don’t have any data on who’s used it or how often it’s been triggered. So unless someone specifically tells us that R;pple helped them, we won’t know. However, we do have some evidence from the R;pple team that’s informed our decision. Can you guess how many searches contain words related to suicide in the UK each month?
Blake: No idea, 5,000?
Alice: It’s over a million. We also know that about a quarter of deaths in under 20-year-olds involve some form of harmful internet use. With data like this, it’s hard to ignore the case for trying R;pple. I’m proud that we’re bold enough to show we have a culture of care that makes it OK to talk about suicide. To break down some of the barriers that stop people seeking help.
Blake: A lot of Psychology students need to search for suicide-related content as part of their degree. Is R;pple going to notify the University every time they look for something?
Alice: No, as mentioned already, the University doesn’t get notified of searches for suicide and nor will the University find out when the R;pple pop-up is triggered. The only blocks and interventions are to prevent malicious cyber attacks, we have a safe and secure network and students can feel safe using our devices.
Blake: Why are you only introducing this for suicide search terms? Why not gambling, drugs or terror related content?
Alice: Trialling R;pple is a first step for us and we’re in good company, many other universities are using it too. We haven’t made any plans for others but are open minded to how we can reduce the stigma around other taboo topics and create a safer community and culture of care. We want to know how staff and students feel about this browser and the possibility for others before making any more decisions.
Blake: Thanks Alice, can I investigate R;pple for myself?
Alice: Yes, the R;pple website explains how the app works and has a link to download it for free onto any device, just go to www.ripplesuicideprevention.com.
Blake: Ok. Before we end, is there anything else the University is doing to help students who are feeling suicidal? Who can they turn to for help?
Alice: I’m glad you asked. If anyone is looking for support, either for themselves or a friend, the best people to speak to are the University Wellbeing Advisors. If you want to speak to someone urgently, there’s also the 24/7 Be Well Talk Now phoneline, or the brilliant, confidential listening service between run by our student Nightline group between 8pm-8am in term-time. The phone number for Nightline is on the back of your library card. The University and SU collaborate in a working group to increase support for students who experience suicidal thoughts or are affected by suicide in other ways; introducing R;pple is just one of the actions we’re taking.
Who to contact for support
University Wellbeing: Booking a wellbeing appointment (bath.ac.uk)
Be Well, Talk Now: Be Well – Talk Now (bath.ac.uk)
Nightline: Bath Nightline - We'll Listen, Not Lecture
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