By Maj. Ebon Alley and Lisa Dicus
19th Medical Group
September marks Suicide Prevention Month. Suicide prevention remains a community responsibility 24/7/365, and we all have a duty to intervene. But how does that relate to social media?
Recent studies have shown that 79 percent of young adults have been exposed to suicide-related content through the media. The role of social media is a relatively new and evolving phenomenon that society is only beginning to assess and understand.
Emerging data regarding the influence of the Internet and social media on suicide behavior has suggested that these forms of technology may introduce new threats to the public as well as new opportunities for assistance and prevention. The goal of this article is to enhance knowledge on how to intervene when faced with concerning social media content.
Whether you have a Facebook page, a Twitter account, or share your videos on YouTube, the reality is an increasing number of the population uses these social media platforms every day - often in place of face-to-face communication. With this revolutionary shift comes an increase in the incidence of people-at-risk using these forums to voice thoughts of suicide.
One population struggling with elevated suicide rates is the U.S. military. “When you look at the prevalence rate of suicide in the military, we see the largest number [of suicides] are occurring in the youngest age group,” explains Craig Bryan, PsyD, ABPP, associate director of the National Center for Veteran Studies. “The youngest age group is also highly active with social media.”
Social networkers who have never been faced with such serious and urgent crises can be placed in very difficult situations when this occurs. When suicide ideation is expressed in these forums, how should one respond? Are there guidelines or protocols that one can follow? Developing a response to this new but serious issue has taken on an urgency that needs to be addressed.
Here are some tips from experts in the field:
• Above all, take the threat seriously
• Keep the channels of communication open; find out more information about the individual such as name and contact details, address or location, and phone number. Find out from the individual if he or she has a suicide plan and the details of the plan.
• Encourage the person to contact others that can provide immediate and personal help (e.g First Sergeant, 911, or family or friends).
• Direct the person-at-risk to the mental health clinic or a telephone help line such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 (TALK).
• If you do not know the person, use the platforms proffered by the site to identify him/her.
• If the person is in imminent danger, contact 911 and give whatever information you have.
• Take the necessary precautions for your own safety.
Additional tips for supervisors
• Keep an eye out for trending topics on social media that may be related to the suicide of a celebrity or other well-known person.
• Encourage those you supervise to not repost stories or links about suicide attempts or death.
• Work with influencers in online fan communities who can help to quell rumors and spread accurate information to counter suicide hoaxes.
Additionally, many social networking sites have already taken steps to enhance safety. For example, Google’s Internet search engine has a feature that displays a link and message about the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at the top of the search page if keyword searches suggest suicidal ideation or intent. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline also recently established a partnership with Facebook. Under the suicide-prevention program, users are encouraged to report to Facebook if a “friend” writes a post that indicates he or she is potentially suicidal. The original poster is then sent an email with a number to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and a link directing the user to an online chat with a crisis worker.
In summary, the role of social media and its potential influence on suicide-related behavior is a relatively new and an evolving phenomenon. The link between social media and suicide is not solely negative and could in fact be positive. By following these simple tips you can help to promote a healthy community and be an effective wingman. For additional wingman training, sign up for Leadership Pathways classes here: http://www.littlerock.af.mil/leadershippathways/ or contact the Mental Health clinic at (501) 987-7338.