Would You Know How to Help Someone in Emotional Crisis Online?

By on Sep 27, 2016

shutterstock_308220563The more connected we become through technology, the harder it may be to reach out to another person and ask for real emotional help. Such isolation is the daily oxymoron of a hyper-connected world. So when you see a person on one of your social networks who appears to be in the midst of a genuine emotional crisis, what should you do next?

September is Suicide Prevention Month and being able to answer that question is the first step in making a real difference in someone’s life as suicide rates nationwide — particularly among teens — continue to climb. We’ve all seen heart-wrenching stories online about people going through incredibly difficult situations. But when a person begins to post increasingly alarming content or even suddenly shares such content, stepping in to help can mean saving a life.

According to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL), the first step in helping prevent suicide is simply to log on with an awareness of the people around you and tune in to the tone of their posts. And since suicide is the third-leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), after accidents and homicide, this a critical conversation to have with your entire family.

Warning signs of online crisis include:

  • Writing about wanting to die or to kill oneself.
  • Writing about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.
  • Writing about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
  • Writing about being a burden to others.
  • Writing about seeking revenge.

According to the NSPL, if someone shows any of these warning signs, it is important that you immediately send them a private message encouraging them to call the Lifeline. If you are friends with the person in real life or know where the person is call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and talk to a crisis counselor about next steps.shutterstock_145058086

In addition to the NSPL — and a number of other 24/7 online crisis chat centers — nearly every social media platform has a system in place to report people in emotional crisis. Users can report someone in crisis anonymously, and that network’s team will respond with the Lifeline number and a link to a live chat with a counselor.

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, and Instagram all have a reporting system in place for self-harm and suicidal content. We are uncertain why Snapchat, the #1 social media platform, does not have any reporting system in place.

Chances are you and your children will sooner or later A) see someone in crisis online, or B) go through an emotional challenge yourself. So, having the conversation about sucide, available resources, and how to truly be aware of others online, is highly relevant. Talking to your kids consistently and candidly about cyber bullying, suicide, and other real-life issues online, will ensure their safety and build their confidence as equipped digital citizens.

Some factors that increase the risk of suicide among teens include:

  • a psychological disorder, especially depression,bipolar disorder, and alcohol and drug use
  • feelings of distress, irritability, or agitation
  • feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness that often accompany depression
  • a previous suicide attempt
  • a family history of depression or suicide
  • emotional, physical, or sexual abuse
  • lack of a support network, poor relationships with parents or peers, and feelings of social isolation
  • dealing with bisexuality or homosexuality in an unsupportive family or community or hostile school environment

Additional Resources 

shutterstock_182618336Lifeline Crisis Chat 1-800-273 TALK (8255) is a service of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline that provides 24/7 crisis and suicide intervention.

I’m Alive 24/7 online crisis center has volunteers trained and certified in crisis intervention.

Crisis Text Line is the only 24/7 nationwide crisis-intervention text-message hotline.

Door of Hope for Teens is a 24/7 support center for teens and 20+ young adults in emotional crisis or prone to self harm. Their helpline is: 914-393-1904.

Samaritans provides emotional support to anyone in distress or at risk of suicide throughout the United States.

The Trevor Project provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth.

Trans Lifeline is a nationwide toll-free crisis hotline for transgender people staffed by transgender people.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 

Families for Depression Awareness

Hotlines and Web Sites for Teens & Families

There is no single cause for suicide. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), individuals commit suicide when life stressors exceed his or her coping ability. On average, there are 117 suicides a day, and men account for suicide 3.5 times more than women. The highest rate of suicide, according to the AFSP, is middle-aged white men.

About the Author

Toni Birdsong

Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist for McAfee. She is an author, speaker, and cyber savvy mom of two teenagers (much to their dismay). As a family safety evangelist for McAfee, she focuses on online safety and often speaks to educators, parents, and teens about dodging the dangers online. She is the co-owner of ...

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