Safeguarding : Mental Wellness in Digital Spaces

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(Photo: Dan Meyers | Description — 3 signs put up on a stone footpath that read ‘Don’t give up’, ‘You are not alone’, and ‘You matter’.)

Content Note : Suicide and Self Harm Mention

Finding out that a loved one or a friend online is feeling suicidal or has disappeared via digital channels can be a harrowing experience. Sometimes our heart is in the right place but we aren’t sure of what is the best possible way to approach a situation as complex as this. Here are a few pointers to consider when you are trying to check up on someone in a traumatised state —

1. Avoid constantly tagging their social media handles if you are contemplating on listing help via a social media search. This has long and short term repercussions and can cause inadvertent harm for the person who might be in a deep depressive and/or trauma-induced panic and is more likely to feel paranoid. This is especially true when you don’t know the story behind their disappearance. If they are experiencing abuse or familial issues, the tagging can be used to keep an eye on them and track their movements as well as whereabouts. A lot of people’s employers, family members et al might be on the same social network and this doesn’t bode well in that context. This is counterproductive and can make the sufferer even more agitated. A lot of times when people survive the low phase and come back to the those very social media platforms, they are then trolled for wanting “attention” for no fault of their own and that is debilitating. Suicide is deeply stigmatized socio-culturally and what goes up on the internet, stays up on the internet. Be mindful of its impact on someone’s life.

2. To the extent possible, try to take things offline. Being concerned for someone’s wellbeing is important and empathetic however with the mercurial attention economy and digital noise that mars social media efforts, it is always better to transfer the endeavors beyond those platforms. Engage with the options needed to track them offline and invite others to help, provided those are safe options. Cops shouldn’t be your first port of call as you don’t know how those dynamics might be at play even as a cause for their suicidal ideation. This is especially applicable if you are dealing with marginalized folks who are oppressed or mistreated by law enforcement agencies. If things are dire, try the firefighters. They are usually trained in these sort of situations. The fire department doesn’t only come in for dousing out flaming chip pans but can help with physical rescue during suicide interventions, domestic violence cases, emergency medical services among others.

3. Someone’s lowest moment shouldn’t be splashed online as trauma porn. If you are trying to help, do so in a quiet, planned manner. Imagine being in a really bad mental and emotional state, experiencing loneliness as well as a general lack of hope and then perhaps having a few safe digital sanctuaries where people have gone ballistic trying to “rescue” you. It can feel very defeating for someone who is at the receiving end even if it wasn’t your intention.

4. The Pizza Delivery Method — This is a technique for checking in on someone who is going through a bad depressive spell and seems suicidal. Order food delivery for them and let them know that you are willing to tip extra if the delivery person manages to meet and check on the person they are delivering to and report back. Thats all they need to- make contact and report back. Nothing more. This is not a substitute for getting psychiatric and medical help at the earliest, just the first step towards unlocking a door.

5. Get help to contact local community spaces/support groups who are active in the field of mental health and social work to find other ways to reach the person. They are experts who know how to handle this and have better options than you may be aware of in the moment. Avoid any pleas that invoke the weight of responsibility like “Think of your family” et al. It doesn’t help except worsen the situation.

If you are a media professional, particularly journalists and news anchors, please be mindful of how you report on suicide cases and deaths. Reducing someone’s dissonant torment to trauma porn is invisiblizing and inhumane. The language of reporting should be informed by an intelligent compassion. Refer to protocols presented by psychiatric and mental health bodies that help you better grasp the accurate terminology. There are no ‘unsuccessful’ suicides. When someone survives, it is called ‘a non-fatal attempt to end their life’. Using words like success to describe suicide is voyeuristic and unnecessary glamourisation. Apart from this, we need to absolutely refrain from the ‘C’ word — committed. No one ‘commits’ suicide. This kind of framing evokes regressive associations with ‘crime’ or ‘sin’ which can further destabilise the conversation about mental health and depressive phases. Also, suicide is not an ‘epidemic’. You can instead refer to is as ‘concering rates’ or ‘higher incidence’. Employing ill-fitted medical terminology for a subject as sensitive as this worsens the social discussion instead of uplifting it.

HR personnels, educators, caregivers, teachers, parents among others should be familiarised with gatekeeper training for assessing signs of suicidal ideation. The goal here is not to police other people’s intent or gratuitous portending but merely to be aware of shifts in another individual’s emotional climate because folks in these roles are most likely to have direct access.

Always remember, It is first about the person who is suffering and going through a bad phase. They need to feel safe and be heard. All the focus should be on them. It is ok to realize that it feels overwhelming and you may not be able to do it all on your own. Marshal your energies towards recruiting help both online and offline.

These are not exhaustive and merely some suggestions.

Please always consult a mental health facility/specialist first.

Scherezade Siobhan is a psychologist, writer and a community catalyst who founded and runs The Talking Compass — a therapeutic space dedicated to providing mental counseling services and decolonizing mental health care. She is an award-winning author and poet whose work is published or forthocming in Medium, Berfrois, Quint, Vice, HuffPost, Feministing, SPR, Jubilat, DATABLEED, Nat Brut, Winter Tangerine, Cordite among others. She is the author of “Bone Tongue” (Thought Catalog Books, 2015), “Father, Husband” (Salopress, 2016) and “The Blues Kali” (Forthcoming, Lithic Press). Find her @zaharaesque on twitter. Send her chocolate and puppies — nihilistwaffles@gmail.com. Tweet at her @zaharaesque.

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