alt.suicide.holiday (a.s.h, ASH or ash) is a Usenet newsgroup. Its original purpose was to discuss the relationship between suicide rates and holiday seasons. However, it has since evolved into a broad discussion forum where suicidal and depressed people can openly share their thoughts. Some participants are not suicidal, but post to provide psychological support and other input to suicidal or depressed posters. The newsgroup is unmoderated and subject to a high level of trolling and a harsh and sometimes hostile atmosphere. According to its FAQ, its purpose is neither to encourage nor discourage suicide.
Participants who share the core values that have developed around the group are "ashers", and "ashspace" is a broader term for online communities historically associated with, but distinct from the newsgroup, including the alt.suicide.methods newsgroup, other discussion and chat groups, and web pages.
The community has developed its own unique terminology. "Catch the bus" refers to the act of suicide, and the group is described as:
- A bus stop where several people have decided to stop and chat before deciding on whether or not to get on the bus.
Newcomers are traditionally greeted with:
- Welcome to a.s.h, sorry you're here.
The newsgroup is unmoderated and subject to a high level of trolling. This has caused some members to leave the newsgroup, for instance to moderated, troll-free mailing lists or forums.
A.s.h is infamous for its association with the a.s.h methods file, a list of possible methods for suicide, ranging from the serious (e.g., lists of poisons and their effects) to the absurd (e.g., starting World War 3). However, since legally available books like Final Exit and The Peaceful Pill Handbook provide more detailed information on suicide methods now, the a.s.h methods file has lost its importance and is not maintained any more. Several related Internet Relay Chat channels also exist.
Because a.s.h is a non-moderated Usenet newsgroup, it is technically impossible to ban any person from posting to a.s.h. A ban by one provider like Google Groups would be insufficient, because the person could easily switch to any other Usenet provider carrying a.s.h. Because of this, a.s.h cannot be classified as being pro-choice or pro-life: posters in the newsgroup represent wide range of positions from strict anti-suicide to right-to-die.
A.s.h is often mistakenly called a website; in fact it is a Usenet newsgroup from the alt.* hierarchy and not a website. This makes a significant legal difference, and allows a.s.h to exist despite attempts to close suicide websites. Unlike websites, Usenet newsgroups are not regulated by any central authority, and there is no organization or individual responsible for a particular newsgroup. Websites like Google groups solely provide access to newsgroups like a.s.h, and are not affiliated with it in any way.
Recent research shows that suicide websites indeed could be more efficient in providing emotional help for people contemplating suicide than suicide hotlines. Primary reasons are asynchronous nature of discussion in newsgroups giving enough time for thoughtful response and group-based discussion that suicidal people find reassuring. High degree of anonymity is another advantage of newsgroups like a.s.h, allowing people to openly talk about their feelings without fear of consequences.
UK Byron Review for 2008, analyzing effects of websites on children, says that "research looking at pro-suicide sites has had mixed results. Some studies report high degrees of emotional and social support by these sites, particularly on sites where the methods of suicide were not discussed. More studies like this are needed to begin to understand the impact of such sites on those who spontaneously choose to access them."
A point of view often expressed on a.s.h itself is that the existence of a.s.h actually prevented many deaths by allowing people considering suicide to connect with others who have the same feelings and giving them a place where they don't have to hide their true feelings.
A.s.h does not censor information on suicide methods and does not prohibit such discussion. Opponents see discussion of suicide methods as potentially endangering vulnerable people - people who would otherwise live through crisis, might commit suicide given information on lethal methods.
Supporters of open discussion state that methods information is widely and legally available; that information might prevent number of permanent injuries resulting from lack of knowledge about methods, like paracetamol overdoses. Finally, there is no indication that making such information available changed suicide rates. For example, in 1991 Final Exit was published; it was the first book giving how-to advice on certain suicide methods. The book was the number one bestselling nonfiction book in America for 18 weeks, and has sold over a million copies. At the same time, there was no remarkable increase in suicide rates.
Coverage in the news
The newsgroup has been a target of news reports alleging a direct relationship between "avoidable" suicides and the suicide-facilitating nature of the newsgroup and web site.
In 2003, a.s.h was the topic of a series of Wired articles under the pretext of examining the group's role in the deaths of several depressed individuals. The accuracy and integrity of the articles was widely disputed by ashers and internet media critics, e.g., Ken Hagler's Radio Weblog: No One Asked Why He Wanted to Die.
A.s.h played some role in the death of Suzy Gonzales, who killed herself in 2003 after sharing her thoughts on a.s.h. In the US, the death of Suzy Gonzales led to an attempt to introduce a controversial H.R. 940: Suzanne Gonzales Suicide Prevention Act of 2007, which did not pass. The current version of the bill is HR 1183: Suzanne Gonzales Suicide Prevention Act of 2011.
Coverage in other media
- alt.suicideholiday.net, a film about suicide newsgroups inspired by a.s.h
- A.s.h World Wide Suicide (2002) (TV), a documentary about a.s.h
- Norway.today is a theatrical drama inspired by a true story. A young Norwegian man and a young Austrian girl agreed a suicide pact on a.s.h, and jumped to death from Prekestolen (Pulpit Rock). Their tent, some beer, and a stereo were eventually found there. Wired Magazine reported on the original story. Norway.today was the most played performance in Germany in years 2003 and 2004, it was translated in 20 languages and played in over 100 theaters.
- In 2004, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit aired an episode called "Painless", which revolved around a website with a similar philosophy called "CatchingTheTrain.com".
- Refers to having all the tools and preparations collected and readied to complete a suicide. I.E., a ticket for the "bus".
- Catch the bus
- Commonly shorted to "CTB", is a euphemism for suicide.
- Gilat, I. & Shahar, G. (2007, Spring). Emotional first aid for a suicide crisis: Comparison between telephonic hotline and Internet. Psychiatry, 70 (1), 12-18. Retrieved April 2, 2008.
- http://www.dfes.gov.uk/byronreview/ Byron Review
- Blog of Derek Humphrey, author of Final Exit, old location
- Suicide and Attempted Suicide: Methods and Consequences by Geo Stone. Carroll & Graf Pub (February 1999)
- A virtual path to suicide. San Francisco Chronicle, Sunday, June 8, 2003
- http://groups.google.com/group/alt.suicide.holiday/browse_thread/thread/fa79bd975fb85845/ Suzy Gonzales on a.s.h
- http://www.theatresmash.com/2008/07/29/norway-blog-get-in-on-the-conversation/ Theatre Smash: NORWAY BLOG: Get in on the conversation.
- http://www.wired.com/culture/lifestyle/news/2003/02/57444 Suicide 101: Lessons Before Dying
- Norway.today in German
- archive of original Alt.suicide.holiday discussion group
- another archive of discussion group, as of 2002
- Alt.suicide.holiday - in its present form on google