You Can Now Donate Your Social Media for Suicide Prevention Research

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When someone you love dies by suicide, unanswered questions may overwhelm you. But according to psychologist Dr. April Foreman, after the shock, many go on to ask: What can I do so this doesn’t happen again?

A mom who had lost her son to suicide was trying to answer this question when she approached Chris Maxwell, Coordinator of Member Engagement for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. She told Maxwell she had some money she was interested in putting into an app. She wanted to create technology that would allow parents or friends to get notified if their loved one was planning on taking his or her life.

Maxwell called Tony Wood, co-founder of Suicide Prevention Social Media Chat, who called Foreman. All three are interested in the overlap between technology and public health, specifically suicide prevention. As they discussed the idea, they realized the issue wasn’t the app itself. It was that with lack of current research on suicide, they had no way of building an app they were confident could work.

“You know what would be more useful?” Foreman said, thinking out loud. “If we had her son’s data, so we could get a greater understanding of her son’s death.”

Data, meaning his social media accounts, and what Foreman calls the new “fossil of human behavior,” is what researchers need to get into the minds of people who have died by suicide. To learn about their behavior. To see if they can notice patterns. To see if they can then use those patterns to develop techniques or technologies to actually lower suicide rates, which despite the growth of technology, has increased by 60 percent worldwide in the last 45 years.

Then it hit them — maybe to fill the lack of data that has delayed substantial suicide research, they had to simply ask for it. Ask people to donate it. Like you would a kidney, or blood.

“It’s a game changer for suicide prevention researchers,” said Glen Coppersmith, CEO and founder of Qntfy, the company that took Foreman’s musings and made it a reality. “It’s the current day version of organ donation. And for people who care about suicide prevention, this is a way to help people who are suffering in a real way. I don’t want your money, I want your data.”

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The process is much simpler than donating blood. Anyone interested can go to OurDataHelps.org, and in less than five minutes become a “data donor” by supplying your social media links and filling out a quick survey that includes your age, any mental health diagnoses you have and how many times you’ve attempted suicide — although even if you haven’t attempted suicide, Coppersmith said, your data can still help. You can also donate the data of a loved one who died by suicide, if you have access to his or her social media accounts.

Once you donate your data, the site automatically anonymizes the data by removing indicators like photos, names and e-mail addresses — any information that could reveal your identity.

“It’s an opportunity to make a real impact in the research,” Wood told The Mighty. “There’s simply not enough data available now. With the data that’s available now, you can do this kind of vague analysis, but you can’t really get into nitty gritty stuff. In order to push forward and get real results, we need data from real people. And we need a lot of it.”

Once enough data is collected, they plan to give it to leading suicide prevention researchers. They hope the information will be a big leap forward for developing technologies that can help prevent suicide.

“We have never found a way to put a dent in the suicide numbers,” Foreman said. “The only thing standing between us and using these new technologies is having enough information to study. And if you donate your or a loved one’s social media data, we maybe be one one step closer to saving someone else.”

If you’re interested in donating your data, visit OurDataHelps.org. There, you can read Frequently Asked Questions, and to learn more about how your data will be used, read their Privacy Statement.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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The Choice I Made After My Suicide Attempt

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This is my story. But it’s not over yet.

Seven years. That’s how long I’ve lived with multiple chronic illnesses, along with depression, anxiety, OCD and ADHD.

Infusions every month. My veins that once were great now don’t look like they belong to a 16-year-old girl anymore.

Holidays in the hospital. More than once. You forget what day it is while you’re in there. You suddenly realize it must be Valentine’s Day, but the only way you know is because of the sweater the clinician who just took your vials was wearing.

Traveling all over the country to see yet another doctor. Just to find that they, too, have the same answer as all the others: “I don’t know.”

A year of intense suicidal thoughts. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. Everything was getting worse, and no one understood the fiery pain I felt inside. I overdosed. In the hospital for five weeks. Intensive therapy — inpatient and outpatient. Lots of tears. Lots of thinking. Lots of pain. Lots of hurting.

But this is my story. It’s not over yet.

You get to that point and you have to make a choice. You didn’t manage to die, so now the question is clear: Are you going to try life again?

My choice was yes.

My choice was to pick up all the broken pieces that were once my heart. One at a time, I held each piece. Each one was bruised and broken, and it looked like they were beyond repair. But people started stepping in — one at a time — and they each picked up a few pieces. They brushed off a little bit of dirt and handed the pieces back to me. I smiled as I put them back together. Maybe people were willing and able to help after all. Nurses, social workers, friends, family, therapists, clinicians — everyone picked up a couple of pieces. Some picked up more than others. There are lots of pieces. Millions. Scattered everywhere. Most of them I have to pick up myself. But at least, this time, I have help, and I know how.

It’s like trying to climb up a downward escalator. Sometimes you have to sit down and catch your breath. You might not ever quite make it to the top, but at least you can stay off the bottom. You realize the small things are truly huge victories. A genuine smile, a true laugh, a spark of hope. Some of the most incredible things in this world are taken for granted so very often.

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I’m by no means past this. The escalator likes to match my speed sometimes. Some days I just feel stuck. But that’s why there’s help. Find someone who can help slow the escalator down a bit. It might never stop. But it doesn’t have to be so fast.

If my story sounds anything like yours, I know it’s hard. I know it hurts. I’m so sorry you’re in so much pain. But please, make the same choice. Because this is your story. It doesn’t have to be over yet. Find help. It’s out there. I promise. The broken pieces won’t ever look the same. But just maybe, they’ll end up even more beautiful.

This is my story. But it’s not over yet.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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Dear Suicidal Self, From Your Well Self

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Dear Suicidal Self,

You’ve been down this rugged path before. You’ve been gripped by the darkness, buried in your own tears and rendered helpless in days gone by. But today you have a friend in me, Your Well Self. You don’t have to face this alone. I am here to remind you not every day will be this way. You must put your faith in me and keep on fighting.

You have pulled yourself out of this situation a number of times. Self, you can do it again. This need not be the beginning of the end. Allow there to be hope for us, and for our future together. It’s your only sensible option.

Please Self, give us a fighting chance. This hurt and pain will eventually subside. This sadness may be chemical, or circumstantial, but don’t let it rob us of our future together. Self, if you have the strength for one thing, call the doctor. If you can’t do that, call a friend.

There are people out there who want to help you. You must believe it and embrace the fact during this difficult time. Think of the times before you didn’t let these intrusive feelings win. Muster up that strength again, Self. Because your life depends on it. Your loved ones depend on it.

You are not alone in this fight and battle for survival. People around you will help you put one foot in front of the other in the days to come. Self, you have dreams. Don’t let them dissipate into nothing. You want to be happy again, so take a chance on that.

Take a chance on your loved ones, that they will support you in this. Take a chance on your future. Allow your hopes, dreams and ambitions to resurface. They can still come to fruition. Self, this is all still possible if you just head my advice. Phone a trusted confidant, and let them in on your situation. You don’t have to face this alone. You are never alone. 

Sure it’s clichéd, but Self, seeking help is the first step towards a recovery journey. Take a sensible option and reach out. You’ve done this before and you can do it again. You’ve got this Self. We’ve got this together. I’m here for you. I’ve got your back.

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Self, never, ever allow it to be your loved ones who are missing that someone special at their birthday or Christmas table. You wouldn’t wish that loss on anyone, would you? Don’t let your mind play tricks or games on you, pretending your absence would go unnoticed. It’s the furthest thing from the truth and Self, you know it deep down.

I know you just want the hurt to end Self, but suicide is a permanent solution to temporary problems. Can you imagine Self, right now, the news of the loss of a loved one? The reality of not seeing them again would be crushing. It would jolt you at the core. Don’t let that scenario play out for your loved ones. And don’t you dare let it play out for yourself.

Conserve that energy that’s occupying your mind on a way out, and save that thought space for recovery. You might hate me right now Self, for not allowing what you deem to be an “easy way out.” But trust me when I say, one day you will thank me for being with you through this, and speaking truth through my voice of reason.

One day soon Self, you will thank me for reminding you life is worth it. Your loved ones are worth it. You are worth it. Thank you Self, for remembering me and believing in me enough to read these words again. Hopefully you will not need them in the future. But if you ever happen to do so, they will be right here, waiting, to gently remind you that you are not alone. Never alone. 

Together we can still fulfill our dreams, but only if you trust me when I say there is so much more to live for. Sending all my love and strength to you My Suicidal Self. I’ll be waiting for you. I am hear waiting for you now, and on the other side of this.

Your Well Self.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a love letter to another person with your disability, disease or mental illness. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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Why 'Shoot Me Now' Should Be Thrown Out of Our Vocabulary

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People throw around the words flippantly.

“I have to work with that person again tomorrow. Just shoot me now.”

“Kill me now! I have so much to get done in the next two weeks, it’s unbelievable.”

And then there’s the gesture. The hand formed like a gun, held up to one’s own head. The rolling of the eyes as the imaginary gun is fired. It’s supposed to be a joke, but it isn’t funny.

It’s an imaginary gun, but it causes real pain.

As someone who fought suicidal thoughts for years, there is nothing funny or lighthearted about these comments. For those of us who experience depression and suicidal thoughts, sometimes simply the mention of suicide (even in jest) can be triggering. We get stuck on that one phrase, that one gesture, and our brains wander far from the conversation as we get lost in our own thoughts: the drowning in emotional pain, the desire to die and the floundering as we try to resurface and find hope.

For years every time I saw someone’s gun-shaped hand move toward their head, I had to look away. That hand gesture, those “shoot me now” words, were like a giant hand pushing me down into icy cold water of despair and holding me there, mocking me.

Over the years, I bit my tongue and held my words of protest when people carelessly talked about suicide. I was afraid if I spoke up they would label me as a party pooper, and I was even more afraid I would have to admit I struggled with depression. I thought I was overreacting and that my overreaction signified something wrong with me.

But today I know better. I’m on the other side of the battle with feeling suicidal, but every time I hear someone throw around the words “just shoot me now,” I am still affected in a deep way. 

Because talking about death and suicide offhandedly isn’t funny. It’s offensive, and it’s harmful. My reaction to these “jokes” doesn’t mean something’s wrong with me; it means something’s wrong with our vocabulary.

I know those who use these words and gestures don’t intend to hurt people with depression. They probably have no idea how much weight their words hold. That’s why I’m finally speaking up. People need to know. They need to know how small and insecure jokes about suicide make others feel, how they start a shame cascade because even though it’s a joke for you, it’s our deepest struggle. 

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So now you know. Now you know how much weight some words and phrases and gestures carry. These things shouldn’t be thrown around carelessly; the only place they should be thrown is out of our vocabulary completely. 

Change your words and tell others too — because chances are someone is being hurt by their words and may just be in too much pain to speak up.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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We Have to Start Addressing the Real Impact of Suicide

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My mom’s funeral had over 500 people in attendance. She was a high school English teacher and well-loved by her 200 students. She was the leader of my Girl Scouts Troop, and the snack mom of my soccer team. She had countless friends and colleagues that enjoyed her humor and her ability to bring a room together. She was the glue in our family, organizing events and maintaining traditions. Her influence was significant in the lives of others. When she died by suicide our community was rocked. Her suicide impacted more than six.

My cousin made every holiday gathering such a delight. He was hilarious and we played pranks on each other like we were children. I would often find baby carrots at the bottom of my soda and upon discovering them glance over at my cousin to see him uncontrollably laughing. He was a joy to be with and loved by all. He served in the military and was deployed to Iraq. Shortly after his return, at the age of 30, my cousin took his own life. Our family was devastated again, his friends were in shock, and his Army buddies grieved their brother. His suicide impacted more than six.

Statistics typically estimate each suicide “intimately” or “directly” impacts at least six people. Six people? When we account for family members, friends, colleagues, neighbors, church congregations, participation in community organizations and military involvement, the impact of a single suicide can be catastrophic. I would argue suicide always directly impacts more than six.

There are organizations in place to help reduce suicide. Prevention phone lines and text lines are available 24/7 to assist people thinking about taking their own life. There are hospitals that exist to keep individuals struggling with mental illness alive when their depression tells them death would be best. We designate our money, time and efforts into keeping people alive. And we should!

Once a suicide takes place, however, the resources are minimal at best. There are, on average, 117 suicides in the U.S. every single day. Only in the past five years have more realistic numbers become available to account for survivors. In his article Estimating the Population of Survivors of Suicide: Seeking an Evidence Base, Alan Berman estimates that although it is difficult to determine the exact number of survivors directly impacted by each suicide, the average could be as high as 32, not six. If we use this more realistic number, then we have approximately 3,744 people becoming survivors of suicide loss every single day in the United States. At the end of one year, in the U.S alone, the number of survivors would exceed one million people. And for some reason, those one million people feel completely alone, isolated and believe they have no one that understands them. How is that possible?

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I want to change this for survivors. Today, when those 3,744 unsuspecting individuals become survivors, I want them to know what is in place, where they can turn and who they can talk with. I want them to know they are not alone because millions of people worldwide know this same loss. To say that only six people are directly affected by a suicide is to minimize the impact on a survivor and glance over the devastation it causes. In his book “Deaths of Man,” E. Schneidman wrote, “The largest public health problem is neither the prevention of suicide nor the management of suicide attempts but the alleviation of the effects of stress in the survivors whose lives are forever altered.”

Suicide postvention is the best prevention and because of that, we must reach out and do all we can to connect survivors to resources, reduce the stigma and talk about suicide openly. We must take care of those impacted by the suicide of a loved one. After my mom’s death, it took me 13 years before meeting another person affected by suicide. But statistically, that cannot be accurate. I believe it took me 13 years because A) nobody wants to talk about suicide, B) nobody knows how to respond to survivors within society, and C) the stigma around suicide is far too great and creates such an uncomfortable setting that we would all just rather ignore suicide completely. If we refuse to openly discuss suicide though, we only reinforce the stigma!

After a suicide, our feelings are ever-changing. Some days we are filled with grief, shock, trauma, pain and millions of unanswered questions, while other days the loneliness, betrayal, isolation, anger and despair are too much for a survivor to process. And, in the midst of all this pain, to feel alone and believe that nobody understands us is sometimes just too much as we contemplate our own suicide.

When we pretend something only impacts six people directly, it is easy to overlook the need for resources to be made available. When we look at numbers honestly though, we see a sincere shortage of assistance and available programs. We cannot magically make new resources become available overnight, but we can point folks in the direction of existing resources. Sometimes, programs exist in our own backyard and we are unaware of them because such little dialogue is taking place.

There are some fantastic resources currently in place:

The Gift of Second– Offering hope, encouragement, and connection through blogs and videos for anyone impacted by a loved one’s suicide.

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention contains resources for survivors as well as a search option for in-person groups in your area.

Our Side of Suicide– offers blogs written by survivors for survivors.

Friends for Survival– offers in-person support groups in California and a national newsletter sent out monthly.

Heartbeat Grief SupportOne of the national pioneers of in-person support groups.

American Association of Suicidology– offers online support as well as an annual national conference for survivors.

In honor of the 112,320 people that will become a survivor in the month of April alone, I want to challenge you to share this piece 112,320 times. Share it with someone you know that has been impacted by suicide so survivors are made aware of resources. Then, if you know of other resources that are currently available for survivors, comment below or head over to Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram and use #morethansix to share those resources with other survivors and to start the discussion for postvention care being just as important as prevention. It’s a long time overdue and yet invaluable to this demographic.

#morethan6 written in white font, with a red background.

Regardless if the suicide took place 40 years ago or just last night, the grief lasts a lifetime. Most people not impacted by a suicide will never fully understand this. Let’s make sure anyone affected by a suicide knows there are people who understand. Let’s let survivors of suicide loss know we see them, we haven’t forgotten them, we know their pain and we are here for them. Let’s start talking.

Mostly, I just want other survivors to know they are not alone. I don’t want anyone else to go 13 years without finding someone who understands.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

This post originally appeared on The Gift of Second.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us a story about a time you encountered a commonly held misconception about your mental illness. How did you react, and what do you want to tell people who hold his misconception? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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The 3 Questions That Are Hardest to Ask as a Therapist

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Editor’s note: If you struggle with suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

“I just can’t take it anymore. The voices are getting stronger and I find that I can’t pull myself away. It’s getting too hard and I don’t want to live. Please help me.”

Sitting across from me, she speaks those words. Desperation, fear and sadness mix with the tears running down her face. I can’t help but notice her hands; they shake and she tries to control them. It’s the only thing she feels like she can still control.

She settles herself enough to answer a few questions; the questions I hate asking. There are usually three that I start with. Sometimes it’s easier just to go for it; they know what’s coming. 

“Are you thinking about hurting yourself — about killing yourself?”

“Do you have a plan?”

“Do you have means to do it?”

For some reason the last one is the hardest. I have been asking those questions for 15 years, and the answer to the third question feels so final. If they are confident enough in their plan to have a means to carry it out, we are really close to losing them. 

On any given day, this conversation is taking place. It may be happening in a counselor’s office, a classroom, with a therapist, pastor or a friend. We are lucky if it is taking place — that means there is hope. It’s the ones who don’t talk about it that we lose. Those who have meticulously answered all three of those questions on their own. We lost them before they even left us.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 42,773 suicides reported in 2014, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death for Americans. In that year, someone in the U.S. died by suicide every 12.3 minutes on average.

There is a direct correlation between teen depression and suicide. The CDC reports that for youth between the ages of 10 and 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death. It results in approximately 4,600 lives lost each year. The top three methods used in suicides of young people include firearm (45%), suffocation (40%), and poisoning (8%).

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Death from suicide is only part of the problem. More young people survive attempts than actually die. A nationwide survey of youth in grades 9 to 12 in public and private schools in the U.S. found that 16% of students reported seriously considering suicide. 13% reported creating a plan, and 8% reported trying to take their own life in the previous year. 

There was one morning in particular that I remember the most. It was winter, so the faint sign of light in my office was coming from a small lamp. I had just arrived at work and saw the shadow of someone sitting in one of my chairs. I wasn’t expecting anyone this early, so I found myself a bit apprehensive about what to expect. 

Sitting in the dark, was the one student I worried about the most. He was the one I thought about when I went home at night; wondering if I would see him the next day. His head was down, and his hands were trembling. Tears escaped his eyes as he looked up at me. His voice was quiet, but serious as he spoke to me. “I almost did it last night.”

I found myself wanting to say something; start asking the questions and going through my list of what to do, but I stopped and just listened. “I was sitting in my room with the gun. It was loaded. I had it in my mouth and my finger on the trigger and then I heard it — my mom. She had just come home and called out my name. I stopped.”

Even writing this now, so many years later, I ache for him. His pain, desperation, isolation, hopelessness and helplessness, was too much; killing himself was the only option he felt he had. I always think about the interruption that night. His mom calling out his name — that defining moment in her life. The moment that saved his life.

Time.

Time is what we talk about with youth. Many of them report an urge to kill themselves that sometimes lasts a short time. If they can get through it, they do not complete suicide. If they do not have access to end their life, they wake up the next day. If someone happens to interrupt them, they can get help before they feel the urge again. If they have a life line — someone to reach out to, we see them at school. 

There is no empty chair in a classroom. 

Trust.

Identifying one person they can go to. One person they can trust to be vulnerable with; to open up and share their thoughts with. This is what we desperately hope for in the fight to save their life. 

Connections.

Human connection is a powerful thing. When it seems there is no one who understands, a hand reaching out is sometimes the one thing that begins the journey towards seeking help. 

I’m not sure if I have the answer for how to end this. I don’t even know if we will ever celebrate a decline in youth suicides. It seems as though the numbers are staggering. Any suicide is one too many. 

What I do know is that our kids need us. They need to see hope in our eyes and feel heard and accepted when they come to us. We need to help them understand that they are not alone in a world that feels so lonely. 

We need to tell them to keep holding on.

There is help.

There is hope.

They are not alone.

This is not how their story has to end.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Follow this journey on FitMom.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s the best thing a medical professional has said to you related to your (or a loved one’s) disability, disease or mental illness?  If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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