When you wake up on a Sunday morning, the last thing you think you’re going to encounter is a suicide threat on one of your social network feeds. I certainly didn’t anyway. Perhaps for some people that’s pretty “normal” (and I use the term very lightly). For me it wasn’t. And of all places it was on Instagram! A little iPod note screen shot talking about having decided on a suicide date. It caught me off guard so much I wasn’t sure what to do. Of course after a few minutes of reflection I decided to look up if there was some way I could report the person was suicidal, and thankfully I found it. Though others were coming to the rescue and commenting on the person’s status, I wasn’t going to try to talk down someone I hardly knew, and I certainly wasn’t going to let them post something that sensitive, without reporting it.
I still wonder if it was the right thing to do or not.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provided me with some great information about what social networks do in situations like this. Unfortunately Instagram was not on that list so it took me a little more time to try to figure out how to do it…which partially is why I’m writing this post. But, what shocked me was how little the social networks actually did in these situations.
Naturally when you send a report to a social network, they have a policy that they are not liable for the person’s actions after initiating contact. What they do is take the information from the report and send a cute little e-mail informing the person that an anonymous user reported them for (fill in the blank) and offer them the contact info of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline where the individual could get professional help, which includes both a phone number, and a live chat. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a very sensitive community, with the understanding that a person doesn’t have to be suicidal at all to call. On their site they say:
“If you feel you are in a crisis, whether or not you are thinking about killing yourself, please call the Lifeline. People have called us for help with substance abuse, economic worries, relationship and family problems, sexual orientation, illness, getting over abuse, depression, mental and physical illness, and even loneliness.”
Super nice of them. Here is the kicker…
Of course the site Admin also informs the user that the information they’ve posted is a violation of the Terms of Agreement and promotes the issue of (insert issue here section whatever part who cares) and they will have their profile terminated. Instagram and other Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter terminate the account to prevent the escalation of violence. Instagram even has refused to allow certain terms to be searched and in some cases have warnings attached to keywords (click here for more info).
Yeah it’s a bit harsh…and can escalate the personal torment of the individual.
I can’t help but ask myself how I feel about this whole scenario? Is it even worth it to report the issue if it means removing the self expression of the user? Does it even help the person if therapy is offered to the user? Perhaps not.
Knowing all this information I still had to make the decision whether or not I was going to report the user for self harm. And I did. Not because I felt it was right for the profile to be terminated, and not because I was obligated by any moral or social standing…but because I wanted to give the user another option. It is said that the main reason a person will post about suicidal thoughts is because they want either some kind of affirmation that they should go through with it, or they want someone to show they care enough to try to stop them. If they were suicidal and didn’t post anything to a social network or even tell anyone then one can assume that they had their mind already made up, and nothing can really be done for them…a sad assumption, but not an unfounded one. There are a lot of misconceptions about suicide. But even severely depressed people have mixed feelings about death, and most struggle until the very last moment between life and an end to their pain. Most suicidal people don’t want to die…they just want their pain to stop or someone to prove they care. The impulse to end it all, does not last forever.
After my struggle to report the user I posted info on how to do it incase anyone else wanted to try. Another user (one I know personally) pointed out how very little the social media sites actually do and that he felt these threats are the best form of awareness. He isn’t wrong. Seeing a real threat for yourself is definitely a wakeup call. But I feel it is better to offer the options to a hurting individual. If they do contact the Lifeline, law enforcement and intervention can be provided for the individual (because IP addresses are used to locate the nearest help center and ultimately the individual in crisis). I would rather offer them the option than nothing at all.
So are the policies of Social Networks really effective in these cases? That I can’t say for sure. every situation is different. Legally there is very little they can do, and with the masses they have to keep track of it would be unfair to ask them to take any more responsibility on the matter. But what I can say is that it offers a helpful option and removes the individual from potentially being a threat to others and ridicule.
Below are a series of helpful and thoughtful videos that touch on several subjects involving and related to depression and suicide (I’m addicted to TedTalks okay? They’re just so informative).
Feel free to leave you comments, questions, or concerns on the matter or videos below.