“I can’t handle life right now.”
“Didn’t get out of bed today.”
For those who use Facebook, status updates, comments and hashtags such as these may be all too familiar. In this electronic age, people often turn to the availability and relative anonymity of social media to vent frustrations and sad feelings – or indications of deeper, more serious distress.
With this in mind, Facebook recently introduced a guide to help users know what to do if a friend posts a suicide threat or other serious cry for help.
Close to 90 percent of young adults (ages 18 to 29) use Facebook, according to a recent Pew Research Center study. Adults ages 30 to 49 are not far behind, with 82 percent reporting that they use Facebook.
The social network’s three-page “Help a Friend in Need” guide lists red flags and warning signs users should look for, as well as guidance on how to respond and ways to get help, including suicide hotline information. The material is based on evidence-based practices, according to the guide’s creators.
In the guide, Facebook urges users to trust their instincts. “If you see someone posting messages, photos, videos, links, comments or hashtags that suggest the person is in emotional distress, you should reach out and get them the help they may need,” the guide says. “… Never be afraid to give your friend a call, pay a visit, or send them a Facebook message to let them know you are concerned, and offer to help connect them with any extra support needed.”
The guide urges users to reach out directly to the individual, either in person or electronically, rather than clicking the “like” button on a concerning post, which could be misunderstood by the individual in distress.
If the individual declines to talk about what is troubling him or her, Facebook users are advised to say, “It’s OK if you don’t want to talk to me, but it is important that you talk to someone.” Options such as a mental heath center, college counseling office or chaplain are suggested.
“No matter what, you shouldn’t be embarrassed or worried about offending or upsetting your friend,” the guide says. “Helping your friend may take some courage, but it is always worth the effort to support their health and safety.”
The guide, launched for both Facebook and Instagram in the United States, is also available to users in seven European countries and Canada.
Find the “Help a Friend in Need” guide at fb.me/helpafriend
A full slate of safety materials, including information for parents, teens and educators, is available at facebook.com/safety
Facebook’s suicide prevention page: facebook.com/help/suicideprevention
Be aware of statuses/posts, messages, photos, videos, links, comments or hashtags that include the following themes:
- Feeling alone, hopeless, isolated, useless or a burden to others: “I feel like I’m in a black hole”; “I don’t want to get out of bed…ever”; “Leave me alone”; “I can’t do anything”
- Showing irritability and hostility that is out of character: “I hate everyone”; “F*@K the world”
- Showing impulsive behaviors such as driving recklessly, a significant increase in substance use or taking other risks
- Insomnia posts: “3 a.m. again and no sleep”
- Withdrawal from everyday activities: “Missed another chem lab – I’m such a waste”; “Another day in bed under the covers”
- Use of negative emoticons: for example, repeatedly using emoticons that suggest someone is feeling down or thinking about using a tool to hurt themselves.
- Use of concerning hashtags: #depressed #lonely #whenimgone #noonecares #suicidal #selfharm #hatemyself #alone #sad #lost #worthless #neverenough #givingup
- On Facebook’s “News Feed” and Instagram’s “Following Activity,” you can see the accounts and posts people start to follow. If you notice a friend liking or following feeds or posts that promote negative behaviors, even if they aren’t sharing concerning content themselves, it may serve as a warning sign that they are engaging with troubling messages or communities.
From the September issue of Counseling Today: “Losing Face: How Facebook disconnects us” ct.counseling.org/2014/08/losing-face-how-facebook-disconnects-us/
Online exclusive: “Critical social skills to incorporate in a 21st century social skills group” ct.counseling.org/2014/09/critical-social-skills-to-incorporate-in-a-21st-century-social-skills-group/
Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org