Using Social Media to Prevent Suicide
As the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and the second leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 34, suicide is a serious public health problem. There are warning signs of suicide, many of which may be visible on social media. A team of researchers at a mental health data analysis organization called Qntfy are looking into linguistic patterns that may help to identify someone in crisis on social media before a suicide attempt. Even without access to lots of data, social media presents an opportunity for friends and family to recognize changes in their loved ones emotions, then intervene and prevent a suicide.
Several of the most popular social media platforms have plans in place to help someone who may be in danger and expressing suicidal ideation. If a person is scrolling through social media and sees a concerning post, they have the option to report the post to the site’s administrators. In most cases, the user is prompted to contact emergency services or a suicide hotline before submitting the report if they think the person they’re reporting is in danger.
An NIMH study has found that social media interventions for young people at risk of suicide can be conducted safely, but more research is needed to determine efficacy.
When a Post is Reported
Facebook works closely with The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to improve its response to potentially suicidal members. If a post is reported for suicidal content on Facebook, the post is reviewed by a team of Facebook staff members. The at-risk person will receive a notification that a friend is concerned for their safety and given suggestions for ways to receive support.
After reporting a post, the concerned person has the option to send their friend in crisis a supportive message. Facebook has suggested copy that users are welcome to use. Another option is for the concerned person to contact a mutual friend and they can reach out to the distressed person together.
If a tweet is flagged on Twitter, it is sent to a team “devoted to handling threats of self-harm or suicide.” The team will then reach out to let the at-risk person know that someone is concerned about their well-being, to share resources and encourage them to seek help. Twitter also encourages users to reach out to the person they’re concerned about and encourage them to find support.
On the Instagram app, a user has the option to report an image for self-harm or suicidal content, which will result in Instagram removing the post. Instagram states on their website that they will then reach out to the person who may be at risk.
Snapchat does not have a way to report users within the app. Instead users can report the content on the website by filing a Safety Concern. After designating the concern as a suicide threat, the user is met with contact information for suicide hotlines and urged to contact local law enforcement in case of immediate danger. If the user needs more help, they are given the option to fill out a form, describing the incident in more detail.
Using Facebook for Suicide Prevention
Reporting a suicidal message after it’s already posted is not the only option on social media. A group of Army veterans have taken to using Facebook as a protective measure—they check in on each other with the explicit and important purpose of making sure that their fellow veterans are safe. Veterans are at high risk, and about 22 veterans die from suicide each day.
With this in mind, former Army Sgt. E. Michael Davis posts a message on Facebook on the 22nd of each month: “Buddy check on 22! Where are my warriors?!” Others respond with brief updates of what they’re doing, but most important is that they are alive and doing something. Many veterans and active duty members of the military participate in a support network like this.
How to Get Help if You Have Suicidal Thoughts
If you need help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or go to www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
If someone indicates they are considering suicide, listen and take their concerns seriously. Let them know you care, and they are not alone. Encourage them to seek help immediately from a knowledgeable professional. Don’t leave them alone.