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How can we intervene online when people have lost all hope?

by Anne Moss Rogers


Trigger warning: Emotional content


Suicide Prevention Lifeline

USA 1-800-273-8255

USA Crisis Text 741-741


USA Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Chat for the Deaf or Hearing impaired

or use a preferred relay service or dial 711 then 1-800-273-8255


My son Charles was 20 when he died by suicide on June 5, 2015. Always the funniest, most popular kid in school, he used drugs and alcohol as his antidote for numbing thoughts of suicide. It wasn’t until he was 17 that he was diagnosed with depression and anxiety.


After going to rehab for an addiction to heroin, my son relapsed a day later and ended up back in detox where he saw a friend and walked out. We didn’t know where he was at this point, and I didn’t see these tweets until much later. Someone sent one of them to me and I thought they meant he’d hit “rock bottom” and he’d reach out and ask for help for his addiction.


But my son’s rock bottom was suicide and I know now that these were classic signs of suicidal thinking. I wish I had called him right when someone shared this with me or gotten him to an impatient facility if I could have found where he was. I’m no longer punishing myself, however. Because I can’t control another human being and who knows if I would have been able to find him or help him.


Stunned with grief and self-blame after Charles’s death, I started a blog called Emotionally Naked in February 2016 to find healing through writing and to focus on the taboo topics of mental illness, suicide, addiction, and loss through personal stories. I missed the signs because no one was talking about it and someone needed to. I was terrified of going public, but I wrote an article about how we reacted to news of my son’s suicide called The Final 48 Hours.


A young lady named Lauren saw it shared on Facebook and sent me a message that said,


Two days ago, I thought about taking my life. Reading an article from a mother who has felt such devastating pain has changed my perspective on life…


She then reached out to her parents for help which was a turning point for me.


That blog post merely validated what she already wanted to do and that’s when I realized people who are thinking of suicide want desperately to tell. And I started to think about suicide prevention from my perspective as a digital marketing expert.


So I wrote a “how to” article on my blog for the express purpose of showing up as one of the first articles on google when people typed in a particular method of killing themselves. The purpose was to compete with other websites that offered step-by-step instruction, sometimes video, on this way to die.


My article didn’t offer instructions, but instead offered hope and resources. It took about six months before it finally landed at the top of google at #6 worldwide when those words were typed in. The first comment I ever got made me cry with joy. I couldn’t believe it worked. Part of that comment below to which I replied.


My statistics also showed, and still show today, that people do a search, go to the page and then click on the resources which include phone numbers but also videos of self-care emergency strategies for emotional crisis and even books. Or they read some of the articles, putting time between thought and action.


Below is an image from my statistics that someone went to the page and then clicked on the hotline number on their mobile phone.


After years of watching statistics like these, I now recognize suicidal thinking not as a choice, but rather an episode people are driven to in a moment of unbearable pain in which they don’t have full control over their actions. It can happen to anyone but often, someone has an underlying mental health condition or trauma, either past or present.


Recent events such as a relationship disruption (e.g. death or divorce) or transition can add to their despair and act as a trigger for the suicidal thinking sort of putting that individual over the edge.


People who are struggling do search for ways to kill themselves. But they also tell us. Because they are also looking for connection and reasons to live. Oftentimes they are posting on social media which are masked invitations for help.


So what can you do?


Social media is our highlight reel-- a lollipop land of shiny faces and perfect families. It’s a facade that has made those who are struggling feel isolated and alone.


Just by reaching out and listening without trying to fix, you can help someone save their own life.


So if you see a social media message that alarms you, gives you a pang in your gut, acknowledge your fear and instincts to move on because you think you are not qualified. Because if you can listen, you are qualified. (If you are a person living with deafness, you can send messages.) The truth is, someone who is struggling is more likely to tell friends they are connected with than a mental health professional.


Maybe their social media post sounds like a “goodbye” message. Or maybe there are a series of posts that indicate stress.


Phrases that might signal alarm can be something like:

· “You all have been great…”

· “I’m so tired of fighting. So tired of living….”

· “I just can’t do this anymore.”

· “I don’t matter. What’s more I can’t stand my own reflection in the mirror.”

· “This stress is just too much…”

· “I hate myself.”


These are invitations to connect. Even if you don’t know the person well, you can reach out and say something like:


“Hey I read your post. Everything OK? I’m here to listen.”


Don’t give up easily when you hear, “I’m fine.


Dig a little more.


I know you’ve been going through a lot lately. I know others who’ve gone through a divorce and said they were fine when their heart was on fire. And I know friends who have struggled with thoughts of suicide while in that process. Because I care I will ask, ‘Are you thinking about suicide?’ I can’t fix anything but I’m willing to listen. I’d like to call you. What’s the best number?”


Don’t say, “You have so much to live for.”


Instead, let them talk and ask questions like, “Tell me more.” “How long have you felt this way?”


Next step you can try to connect them with resources if possible. Or call someone you know who does know them better. Because connection is the antidote to suicide.


Google has partnered with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, so searches for phrases like “I want to kill myself” bring up the phone number for the prevention lifeline. Facebook has artificial intelligence as well as “report” and “support” functions for friends who are concerned about another’s online posts in a suicidal moment. Using artificial intelligence, they are building algorithms that help them predict who is at risk for suicide.

But nothing, absolutely nothing is as effective as a real human being reaching out to another in a moment of distress.


I do get messages years later from some who needed that nugget of hope to keep going in what seems like a vast and uncaring world. So never think a thoughtful message or comment in social media doesn’t matter because it might just become the one ray of hope that serves as another person’s survival guide.

_________________________________________________________________________________________


Anne Moss Rogers is author of the book, Emotionally Naked: A Teacher’s Guide to Preventing Suicide and Recognizing Students at Risk as well as the award-winning memoir, Diary of a Broken Mind. She is an emotionally naked speaker and writer who advocates tirelessly for mental health and suicide prevention. Find Anne Moss Rogers at https://annemossrogers.com or http://emotionallynaked.com.

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