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Let's Talk About Suicide on Social Media (Because No, Talking Doesn't Encourage It)

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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.

We are consumed with technology. It surrounds us at every corner. We cannot tear ourselves away from our cell phones, and being away from them can cause us stress and anxiety. After all, most of our lives are stored on that tiny device, from banking information to the ability to lock your car or front door. Many of us avoid talking on the phone; I mean, after all, why speak when you can communicate via text? So much easier, right? Social media is much of the same, once we jump in, it tends to become all-consuming. We share our thoughts, our pictures and lives with friends and strangers, all with the press of a button. We live in a world with more people than ever, yet have more lonely people than ever before.

Is technology responsible for this social disconnection, or perhaps, does it do the exact opposite and connect us in ways we never thought possible 20 years ago? Social media has the ability to connect us with our business partners, our loved ones and perhaps most importantly, strangers. It allows us to be our true selves with less fear of judgment. It allows us to use an alias while still allowing the freedom to express our thoughts and emotions. Sometimes the best advice and support you receive is from a group of people you may not even know. There are plenty of random strangers with like thoughts, reaching out to others to let them know they don’t have to struggle with their emotions alone. A kind word, a supportive quote or even a cute picture can drastically change someone’s day, or more importantly, can get someone through a crisis.

I was recently chastised for being too real; for expressing too much. I simply spoke my feelings at that moment, which happened to be particularly dark ones. I was then told because I express my suicidal thoughts online, I am actually advocating for and encouraging suicide. Obviously, that comment did not go down well. Not only was I hurt, but incredibly insulted, as I have spent much of my time online trying to help others to realize they are not alone. I thought about it a while, trying to see if I had overreacted to what was said, but the longer I pondered it, the more I realized two important things.

The first: I believe people should be able to express how they feel without fear of condemnation, without fear of police involvement and the threat of being locked up in a facility. Secondly, the more honest I am with my words, the better the chances of reaching others, letting them know they share the same thoughts with so many and as alone as they feel, if they reach out, so many people will reach back. That is what drives me to continue. Happy quotes serve their purpose, but I believe nothing makes someone feel more understood than empathy.

I am not sure there is such a thing as an expert on suicide … those with their doctorate degrees and whatnot often have their training based on facts, not emotions. They may have all the knowledge in the world, but you cannot teach empathy. Sympathy perhaps, but empathy comes from lived experience. It comes from the heart and the soul. Being suicidal is something I don’t think can be understood unless you have actually experienced it. No class in the world can teach you to feel how something feels to someone else.

Having been both actively and passively suicidal for 40 years has given me more insight than most doctors would think. In most cases, if someone is online and talking about suicide, they are in fact trying their best to reach out. They need to be heard and to have their feelings validated. They need to know these thoughts and emotions are shared by so many others, and what better way to reach out than to ask for support from countless strangers who have lived experience? In no way am I trying to downplay the seriousness of the situation, and in some cases, intervention may be needed, but instead of assuming, let’s start by asking one simple question … how can I help? You don’t need formal training to listen, to reassure, to support and validate. You just have to be willing to give yourself and your time. Talking about, asking about or even mentioning suicide is not a bad thing. It will not encourage or enhance suicidal thoughts.

Let me tell you, in my experience, once you are in that ultimately desperate frame of mind, it already seems like the end of the world, so not much you can say is going to make it worse, However, just asking the question, “How can I help?” Or, “tell me more,” can make someone feel they are cared about in the moment of crisis. Sometimes all you need is someone to sit with you, to listen, to validate and to shine a small beam of light into your darkness. Nothing in life is permanent, so like everything else in life, those feelings will change, and you will grow stronger.

They may come back for a short visit or an extended stay. I live with mine 24/7, but I know all I have to do is reach out and the social media support network will be there. There truly is strength in numbers.

Getty image by Dejan_Dundjerski

Originally published: March 6, 2020
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