Suicide and social media…you can help

More and more we see stories on the news about teenagers and young adults dying by suicide and disclosing their suicide ideation on their social media accounts. One such story which occurred prior to summer was especially gruesome. A college student in Michigan, who had been disclosing suicide ideation for several days on his Facebook account and blog, was found dead in a wooded area after succumbing to suicide.His tragic ending reminds us, ever so starkly, of the great power Facebook friends have in preventing suicide through the use of social media technologies. Indeed, my own research has demonstrated that young adults are willing to respond to suicide ideation online. However, the question remains as to what specifically predicts such willingness. One proposed predictor is self-efficacy, or, the belief that one can indeed do something to help. In order to help you increase your self-efficacy and peer support savvy, here are some important tips which can help you if you ever find yourself in the position of helping a friend in crisis.

  1. Know the causes and warning signs of suicide. There are many myths and misinformation about suicide floating around on the internet and in our own minds. Suicide is not selfish or cowardly. It is the result of an enduring pattern of intense mental trauma. Individuals who make a suicide attempt finally reach a point where they cannot hold on any longer, and if they do not receive the help they need they may not survive. Some warning signs of suicide ideation include social withdrawal, talk of death, giving away possession, increase irritability, and depression. You can find a complete list on my website.
  2. Be ready to respond. When responding to an individual experiencing suicide ideation, it is important to remain calm and non-judgemental. Your friend or loved one needs you, and they already feel terrible. If you respond in a harsh or panicky way, it could push your friend away from the support you need. Take deep breaths, remain calm, find out where your friend is, go to them if you can, and remain on the line with them until you get to them or help arrives. You can also contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). They can help you help your friend.
  3. Utilize Facebook’s tools. Research indicates that when people disclose their suicide ideation online, the desperately want their loved ones to reach out. You can use the Messenger app on Facebook to reach out to your friend, even using the Facetime feature of Messenger. If you are worried about your ability to help, then you can use the Facebook report feature. This feature activates a crisis feature which reaches out to the author of the suicide disclosures and connects them with resources. Reporting is incredibly simple, and it demonstrates to your friend or loved one that you care. Just click the little grey arrow in the right-hand corner of the post and select “report.” Follow the prompts to complete your report.

Suicide effects us all, and suicide prevention is for everyone. Don’t be afraid to reach out, because #askingsaves.

If you are in crisis, we are here for you.