Updated: Sep 28, 2018
This week, Orygen, The National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health launched world first guidelines to help young people communicate safely about suicide online as part of the #chatsafe Project. When this project was getting off the ground, I sat on its national advisory group so I’m particularly pleased to see this set of evidence-informed guidelines now available for young people and those around them.
As I was reading through the guidelines today, it struck me that the information shared is not only hugely helpful in terms of educating us on safe communication when it comes to suicide but also fantastic food for thought for anyone communicating online about their personal thoughts, opinions and emotions.
Here are my three immediate thoughts:
1. Pause before you hit publish.
“Before you communicate online about suicide, take some time to think about why you want to share this post. Reflect on how your post could affect other people and whether or not there is a different way to communicate this information in a way that is safer or more helpful.”
The same could be said for anything we share on social media – from images and photos to videos and written blog posts. There is no delete button. Depending on your privacy settings your post could be shared with a few or many. Most importantly, when posting anything on social media, you have minimal to no idea of the emotional state of your intended and unintended audience.
So before you hit publish, pause. Pause and think about the impact sharing this information could have on you. Pause and think about anyone else who may read or view this information and how this may impact on their thoughts and emotions.
2. Safe communication doesn’t mean stop communicating.
“Don't let embarrassment or concern about offending or upsetting the person stop you from reaching out and offering help. There is no “perfect” or “right” thing to say to someone in these situations and it is better to make a supportive attempt to reach out than to make no attempt at all.”
Yes, pause before you hit publish but don’t let it stop you from engaging in social media to support your friends, particularly if someone you know is sharing thoughts of suicide online.
One of the ways the guidelines suggests showing a person you care about them is to respond to their post or comment in private (e.g., through DM or PM). This is not only for their benefit but also the unintended audience I mentioned earlier who may find the conversation upsetting.
Another tip is to look at the person's posts so you can acknowledge their feelings and specify exactly why you are worried about them (e.g., "from what you've posted it seems as though you are having a tough time"). Often it isn’t about fixing the problem or finding a solution but acknowledging what is going on in their life and giving them permission to open up about how they’re feeling. This is a great lesson we can all take from the suicide prevention sector into conversations with friends and family about any number of tough subjects or emotions.
3. Sometimes it IS about you.
OK so I know I said it’s not always about you. But, sometimes it is about you.
"Whether you are an occasional or frequent user of social media, be aware that sometimes repeated exposure to negative content (e.g., conversations, images or videos about suicide) could impact upon your own wellbeing. It’s also possible that a one-off post may trigger negative thoughts and feelings. It’s important to have a plan in place in case you do feel upset or troubled by posts that you have shared or seen.”
Again, this is not only applicable to online conversations about suicide. The world can sometimes be an upsetting place. Sometimes, you’ve got stuff going on in your life that means you’re a little more emotionally vulnerable than usual. It’s ok to take a break from social media. It’s ok to seek out ways to take control of content that you see.
As I heard someone say at a conference a few years ago, there is no online and offline world anymore; there is just the world. Social media is the new normal and it is not only our responsibility to curate our content so there are safe online spaces to connect but also to care for ourselves.
Thank you to the young people and others who shared their insights and tips to make this project possible.
Download a copy of the guidelines here.