A new online tool aimed at tackling the growing issue of suicide and self-harm launches today. R;pple is a browser extension that can recognise harmful web searches and intervene to help prevent individuals from deciding to take their own life.

Once installed, the tool discreetly monitors queries via search engines, forums and video sharing platforms. If any words or phrases related to suicide or self-harm are detected, the user will receive a pop-up before any search results are displayed. This includes a message of support, alongside links to help via phone, text and online services.

R;pple does not block users from harmful content if they still wish to view it – each pop-up still includes the option to ‘Continue to search results’. Instead, it provides “a message of hope and encouragement that things will get better”.

Founder Alice Hendy is all too familiar with the devastating effects of suicide. Her brother Josh took his own life in November 2020 at the age of just 21. A subsequent examination of his phone and laptop found searches for suicide techniques across various websites.

It’s far from an isolated example. The ONS recorded a total of 5,224 suicides in England and Wales in 2020 – that’s an average of more than 14 lives lost every single day. According to Semrush, searches for “suicide methods” have increased more than 50% since January 2019. For “suicidal thoughts”, it’s a 23% increase, while there have been 125% more searches for “suicide hotline”.

The pandemic has only exacerbated the situation, with the combination of reduced social interaction and increased screen time proving particularly potent. But R;pple is keen to stress that the current trends won’t suddenly be reversed once the pandemic is over.

R;pple suicide prevention
Image: R;pple

Hendy is aware that one browser extension isn’t enough to solve the problem, either. That’s why R;pple has partnered with dozens of mental health charities and organisations, all of which help to raise awareness about suicide, self-harm and bereavement following the suicide of a loved one. The underlying message here is to provide a choice for people who feel there’s no alternative or way out.

Understandably, people may be reluctant to let a browser extension access all their online searches. However, according to to R;pple's Privacy Policy, it only collects four pieces of data: how many people search for harmful terms, click on each charity partner button and click ‘Continue to search results’, as well as the most common harmful search terms input into search engines. That means no personally identifiable information is ever captured or stored.

The R;pple browser extension is free to download for Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge at launch. Versions for Mozilla Firefox and Safari will be available at a later date.

If you or anyone you know is struggling right now, help is available. R;pple recommends eight mental health charities on its website, all of which can be accessed for free. These include web, text and app-based services, alongside calls and in-person support.

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