How to safely respond to a Suicidal Post on Social Media09/05/2022
Reacting appropriately 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 would you do if it's a friend or what if it's 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. The main social media platforms all have frameworks and processes in place to help you with this safely and appropriately.
Social media posts can reflect the full range of human emotions, positive, 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.
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 them 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
If we know the person, there are options open to you to approach the topic with them offline. We've a whole section on our website about what to do if you're concerned about suicide with tips and guides on how to safely open up the conversation, to support the individual and if necessary, get them to the help they need. You'll find further information on this at the end of this post.
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 feeling suicidal. 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.
Simply Flagging to a Social Media Platform can help save a life
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. Spending a couple of minutes to file a report could just help save a life.
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 Support 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.
Concerns for a Friend or someone you know
If you have concerns that a friend or someone you know may be suicidal and you wish to approach the topic with them, you’ll find out more on our Give Help for Suicide 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.