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We Can't Take Logan Paul's Video Back, so Where Do We Go From Here?

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Sometimes the news isn’t as straightforward as it’s made to seem. Sarah Schuster, The Mighty’s mental health editor, explains what to keep in mind if you see this topic or similar stories in your newsfeed. This is The Mighty Takeaway.

Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

There’s nothing shameful about talking about suicide. There’s nothing disgraceful about someone who has suicidal thoughts. Spreading suicide awareness can be a great way to engage with people who might need help, and it can also save lives.

But not all suicide “awareness” is suicide prevention. This matters.

Since Monday, YouTuber Logan Paul has been the target of internet fury — and for good reason. The 22-year-old, who has 15 million subscribers on his channel, posted a video showing the body of a man in Japan who had died by suicide while he was touring Aokigahara, known as the “suicide forest.”

“This is not clickbait. This is the most real vlog I’ve ever posted to this channel,” Paul says in an intro to the video, according to New York Magazine. “I think this definitely marks a moment in YouTube history because I’m pretty sure this has never hopefully happened to anyone on YouTube ever. Now with that said: Buckle the f-ck up, because you’re never gonna see a video like this again!”

The video has since been removed, but the damage has been done. Within 24 hours of being uploaded, the video had 6.3 million views. Millions saw a triggering video that showed suicide in a graphic manner, completely disrespecting a man who lost this life and his family.

There’s a lot to unpack here. Notably though, after Paul presumably shot the footage, reviewed it, had a part in editing it and then uploaded it to Youtube, he thought the video would be received as suicide awareness.

“I didn’t do it for the views. I get views,” he wrote in an apology posted on Twitter. “I did it because I thought I could make a positive ripple on the internet, not cause a monsoon of negativity. That’s never the intention. I intended to raise awareness for suicide and suicide prevention and while I thought, ‘if this video saves even ONE life, it’ll be worth it,’ I was misguided by shock and awe, as portrayed in the video. I still am.”

When Paul and the people with him discover the man who died by suicide, he looks at the camera and says, “Suicide is not a joke. Depression, mental illness is not a joke… This just became really real, and obviously, a lot of people are going through a lot of shit in their lives.”

“We want you guys to know if you’re ever going through anything, we’re here for you,” another person in the video added.

He says the “right” things — things we’ve heard before. But the video’s main focus is the body he found, and these words seem empty paired with the images that accompany them. The fact that Paul thought these words alone were suicide “awareness,” and therefore, prevention, highlights an important misconception, reminiscent to discussions surrounding the now infamous suicide scene in “13 Reasons Why.” To show the “reality” of suicide, Paul and the creators of “13 Reasons Why” seem to think, deters people from trying to take their lives, because it makes it seem less desirable.

The reality is, experts warn showing suicide and focusing on suicide methods can actually have the opposite intended effect. Research has found that when a story explicitly describes the suicide method or uses dramatic and graphic details, it increases the risk of additional suicides.

YouTube responded to backlash over Paul’s video, stating it allows graphic imagery when “supported by appropriate educational or documentary information.” But that decision, at least when it comes to suicide, is misguided.

“We’re putting the most vulnerable at risk in hopes of starting a conversation that could help those at risk. It’s the most odd, circular argument that we would never let fly in any other public health field,” John Ackerman, a clinical psychologist and Suicide Prevention Coordinator at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, previously told The Mighty, referring to “13 Reasons Why.” “Are we going to make the people of Flint, Michigan drink a bunch of poisonous water to bring awareness to the fact that they should have clean water?”

By now, millions of young people have seen this video, and as the conversation continues, more will seek it out. We can’t take the video back, so where do we go from here? Here are some actionable steps that don’t simply promote suicide “awareness,” but could potentially help someone in a big way.

1. Talk to your kids about suicide – especially if you know they spend a lot of time online. 

It’s a tough conversation, but if you think your child or teen saw Paul’s video or follows his channel, ask them about it. If they saw the video, ask how it made them feel. Humanize the man they found in the forest — let them know he isn’t a prop — and if you can (and in an age-appropriate way), use this as an opportunity to talk about mental health and suicide. Does your child know what to do if they feel “sad” or hopeless? This might be a good opportunity to have an important conversation.

2. Learn the signs of suicide.

We don’t need to spread awareness that suicide exists. We know it does. But, we can spread awareness about risk factors of suicide, and signs someone is struggling. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has information here.

3. Spread resources — not graphic images/videos. 

Rather than “scaring” people away from suicide using graphic images and descriptions, let people who are struggling know there is help. Here are some resources if you or a loved one ever need them:

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.

The Crisis Text Line 24/7 by texting “START” to 741741.

The Trevor Project, an LGBT crisis intervention and suicide prevention hotline, 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386.

The Trans Lifeline, an non-profit dedicated to the well being of transgender people, at (877) 565-8860.

4. Donate to organizations that support suicide prevention and suicide loss survivors.

If you’re interested in suicide prevention, and have the means, there are tons of wonderful organizations that work every day to bring the suicide rate down. Here are just a few options:

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Trans Lifeline

Crisis Text Line

The Trevor Project

American Association of Suicidology

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

Image via Wikimedia Commons/Luigi Novi

Originally published: January 3, 2018
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