How to Respond to Suicidal Posts on Social Media
Reacting to a social media post can help save a life
If you saw a social media post suggesting thoughts of suicide or self harm, would you know how to respond? What if it was posted by someone you don’t know personally?
We all spend a lot of time on social media these days. And whilst most posts are harmless, often people discuss personal topics and show signs that all is not well. Although a lot of the content we come across is from people we’ve never met or have had little contact with, it doesn’t mean we can’t help those in need of support.
Social media posts can reflect the full range of human emotions, positive and negative and everything in between. As much as they can celebrate life, they can also reflect despair, loneliness, or hopelessness and give other direct signals that indicate suicidal thoughts. They can contain indirect signals of suicidal behaviour or intent e.g. posts that seem out of character, or that highlight difficulties such as agitation, trouble sleeping or withdrawing from everyday activities. These can all be signs that someone is thinking about suicide.
In this blog post, we explore how to respond to such posts when made by people we don’t know personally. If you wish to approach the topic with someone you know, you’ll find out more on our Concerned about Someone page. We also recommend you educate yourself on knowing the signs and steps to take in everyday life. Some helpful links are given at the end of this post.
When to take action?
With all the nuances of social media, it can be a challenge to differentiate between posts implying mental health struggles or suicidal intent and those just venting, having a bad day or even using sarcasm or irony. You might notice signs in someone you know well but they may not be so obvious in someone you don’t know personally. Yet, you may feel somewhat familiar with that person because you see their content across your feed regularly or because you interact with them. So when should you take action?
In being suicide-aware generally, we learn of certain red flags or warning signs and expressions, such as: “ I don’t want to live”, “I’ve nothing to live for anymore”, or “they’d be better off without me.”
The same red flags apply online and so posts with this kind of messaging should not be ignored and should be acted upon. Whether you know the person or not, signs of suicidal intent such as these should always be taken seriously.
How to respond to suicidal social media posts
When we don’t know the person, it can be hard to know how best to respond if their social media posts suggest they’re thinking of suicide. But,that doesn’t mean you should ignore the post.
It’s different approaching someone you’ve had little contact with compared to someone you know personally. Finding the suitable tone for that individual may be more challenging. So, in cases where you’re not comfortable reaching out personally, simply reporting the post is the recommended course of action. All the major social media channels are well-equipped to respond to such situations.
Use the platform’s reporting systems
Social media platforms all have different protocols to get help for someone. All the major ones have a reporting system for posts that suggest a person is thinking about suicide. Generally, once they receive a report, they’ll contact and check-in on the person in question. It’s a simple process to report a social media post, but it can be highly effective.
All reports are reviewed by professionals and if any action is required, they have access to information, such as the poster’s location, that will help them take steps.
Reporting pages for major social media platforms
- Twitter: this is the form for reporting suicidal ideation.
- Facebook: report via this form. A fully trained member of Facebook’s community ops team will review to assess risk and will share support options with them. If they suspect the person is in imminent danger, local authorities may be contacted.
- Instagram: this link contains helpful information. If you wish to report a post, click the three dots above the post. Select “Report” and then “Its 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.” Instagram will also share suggestions to talk to a friend, direct access to a local helpline, and other tips for getting support. Instagram will also send the message to people who search for hashtags that promote self-harm.
- Snapchat: the platform encourages direct contact with the friend to seek help via the Snapchat list of local resources (including a helpful, if limited, list of Irish organisations). But if you feel uneasy about speaking to them directly you can still report the snap on mobile. Select “Mean or inappropriate snaps” or file a general request for assistance from the Snapchat Support Centre.
- YouTube: to flag a video that gives you cause for concern, click the three dots just below the bottom right corner. Select “Report” and then “Harmful dangerous acts”. YouTube staff review flagged videos every hour. They reach out to individuals to provide resources and also work with suicide prevention agencies to provide assistance.
For other social media platforms, if you do a quick search for ‘reporting suicidal posts on [x social media platform]’ should direct you to the relevant page.
So, if you see a social media post that suggests suicidal behaviour, even if you don’t know the person, have never had any contact with them, or live on the other side of the world from them, you can still help.
And spending a couple of minutes to file a report could just help save a life.