According to the National Institute of Mental Health, around 38,000 people die by their own hand per year. Suicide is among the top 10 leading causes of death in the United States, and ranks in the top three for people aged 15–24. Despite its prevalence, the topic of suicide is rarely discussed. There are organizations moving to change the way we look at suicide and self-harm with the hope that awareness can lead to prevention.
Many organizations are taking steps to work toward suicide prevention; one way to do this is by making the “warning signs,” more known. And that’s just what a joint effort between the Clinton Foundation and the Jed Foundation is striving to do with the “Help a Friend in Need” community guide. In an effort to promote emotional health and prevent suicide among college students, the organizations teamed with Facebook to release an informational pamphlet outlining possible signs of suicidal thought as seen on social media sites.
Monica McDougal, Social Media Coordinator for the Washburn University chapter of To Write Love On Her Arms, a national non-profit movement dedicated to people struggling with suicide, addiction, depression and other mental health issues sees social media as vital to suicide prevention.
“It’s a really good avenue if you’re seeing statuses from people you know that are troubling you to reach out and say ‘hey are you ok,” said McDougal. “Social media is a really good way to say that because sometimes directly speaking to someone can be really scary and it’s hard to get the words out. Typing is a little easier and it gives you time to think about what you’re going to say.”
The layer of anonymity provided by a computer or smart phone is often enough to ease any apprehensions someone might have about reaching out for help.
“I think sometimes it’s easier for people to say things like this when it’s a blank computer screen,” said Jaime Olsen of Washburn Counseling Services. “Sometimes we have more courage to say things we wouldn’t say face to face to somebody.”
The guide gives several examples of statuses and posts that may suggest depression or high-risk behaviors, such as withdrawing from everyday activities and out-of-character irritability or hostility. Suggestions on how to help someone in need are also given.
However, it can be difficult to address mental health issues because of the stigma surrounding them.
“I think the biggest thing about suicide, and we’ve talked to student groups on campus, is often times people are afraid to say the word,” said Olsen. “Their friend is acting strange or they’re thinking maybe their friend is thinking about killing themselves but they don’t come out and say ‘so you seem like you’re upset do you think you want to hurt yourself or kill yourself?’ What I’ve heard people say is they’re afraid that if they say the word suicide it will put the idea in your head. It’s quite the opposite.”
The most important tip given by all of these resources is to communicate with a person suspected of being at high-risk; reach out to them and have a conversation. They may not want to respond, but helping create a support system of people who care about what happens to someone will decrease the likelihood of suicide.
For more on the “Help a Friend in Need” community guide, which is now available on Facebook and Instagram, visit www. jedfoundation.org.