Warning Signs of Suicide on Social Media: What You Can Do When It’s Someone You Know
Mar 28, 2019
People are spending more time on social media than ever. Most posts are harmless depictions of life in general; status updates, pictures of friends or food, or even a joke. However, sometimes people discuss personal topics and show signs that things are not going well. Posts may contain words or images that reflect loneliness, isolation, hopelessness, irritability, or hostility.
Portraying behaviors that are out of character, posting about trouble eating or sleeping or withdrawing from every day activities can also be signs that the person is struggling emotionally. They may even be thinking about suicide or engaging in self-harm. So what do you do if a friend expresses warning signs of suicide or self-harm on social media?
First, if your friend is in immediate danger, call 911 immediately. If they are not in immediate danger, it often makes a big difference to reach out directly to that person or to a mutual friend. You can also speak to someone at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) or the Crisis Text Line (“4HOPE” to 741-741) and they will provide support and guidance.
Social media platforms have different protocols to get help for someone. They will contact and check on the person in question once they receive a report.
On Facebook, report the post by clicking here and filling out the form with the name of the person, the link to their Facebook profile, the link to the content in question and a screenshot if you have one. A fully-trained member of Facebook’s Community Operations Team will review it to see if the person is at risk and will share support options with them. If imminent danger is suspected, local authorities may be contacted.
Similarly, a post can be reported on Instagram by clicking the three dots above it. Select “Report” and then “It’s Inappropriate > Self injury.” The app will send this message to the user: “Someone saw one of your posts and thinks you might be having a difficult time. If you need support, we’d like to help.” Suggestions to talk to a friend, direct access to a local hotline, and tips for getting support in other ways will be shared. Instagram will also send the message to people who search for hashtags that promote self-harm.
Twitter has a form you can submit when reporting suicidal ideation. You’ll need to provide the username, a description of the problem, a link to the tweet (optional), your full name and email, and if you’d like, your phone number and Twitter username.
Content that promotes self-harm or glorifies suicidal behavior is not allowed on YouTube. If you see something troubling, you can flag the video by clicking the three dots just below the bottom right corner, selecting “Report” and then “Harmful dangerous acts.” YouTube staffers review flagged videos every hour of every day and will reach out to individuals with resources as well as work with suicide prevention agencies to provide assistance.
When you see posts that deal with suicidal thoughts or behaviors, it’s important to take them seriously. Lend support to your friend when possible because most likely they are in a lot of pain. Listen, communicate care, validate their emotions. Unless asked, don’t offer solutions. Follow up regularly to show how much you care for them and let them know they aren’t alone. Also, remind them that there are effective treatments and crisis support options.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for adolescents 10 to 19 years old and it is largely preventable. For more information on the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Center for Suicide Prevention and Research, click here. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255 and the Franklin County Suicide Prevention Hotline is 614-221-5445.
John Ackerman, PhD, is a clinical psychologist in Behavioral Health and Suicide Prevention Coordinator for the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research (CSPR) at Nationwide Children's Hospital. He directs community, school, and hospital efforts to educate others about the risks and warning signs of pediatric suicide.
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