Suicide Prevention And Social Media

“Walk into any American high school classroom and the odds are that two of the young people before you will have attempted suicide over the past 12 months.” This is according to Jack Heath, president of the Inspire USA Foundation.

It is very unsettling to consider that more than 24,000 suicide attempts are made on college and university campuses around the United States, annually. These alarming figures are provided by the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In fact, according to US government statistics, suicide is the second leading cause of death among 25- to 34-year-olds. It is also the third leading cause of death among American 15- to 24-year-olds.

The experts attribute the causation factors for college age suicides as stress of school, finances, and relationships. These, among others, are certainly enough to get most college students feeling depressed about life at a time that already brings with it the many pressures of adult expectations as well as academic and social challenge.

Here’s the thing… most college students contemplating committing suicide are not likely to include their line of thinking in their Facebook status updates. Among those that have, lives have been saved by online “friends,” who recognized what was happening and immediately intervened to avert horrible tragedies from taking place.

Case in point. Resulting from her quick response, actress Demi Moore helped save the life of one of one of her Twitter followers, who was contemplating suicide. By keeping her engaged with Tweets, Moore enticed enough clues for other Tweeps to figure out where this woman lived. Police were dispatched to her home, just in the nick of time. (Source: NEWS WIRE SERVICES DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER – Saturday, April 04, 2009)

In another case that snagged international newswires, a 16 year old British youth sent a suicide message to a young girl in Maryland. This eventually led to White House and British Embassy involvement via calls from the Maryland state police. Both governments assigned special agents to help track down the suicidal young man before he took his own life. As a result, a life was saved, due to the Social Media. (Source: The Telegraph (UK), Thursday 21 April 2011)

Virtual communities, especially those geared to suicide prevention, can bring together groups of failed attempters of suicide; their family and friends, as well as field experts, locally or from around the world. Everyone’s contribution to the overall conversation and the valuable of their input allows for the sharing of important information and the creation of supportive relationships.

When people feel connected to and supported by others and encouraged to be who they really are – as they do in virtual communities – they build a safety net around them that may help protect them when they are feeling despair.

Fortunately, not all of the virtual communities forming to deal with suicide prevention are coming about by happenstance. Recognizing the value of the online world in helping to provide a conduit for expressing psychological and emotional issues, professional associations and academic institutions are introducing their own communities and resources into the greater mix.

According to the information provided on its home page, “ReachOut.com is the flagship program of Inspire USA Foundation, a national 501(c)(3) non-profit charitable organization. Through its virtual community, ReachOut integrates youth-generated, expert-reviewed information and real-life stories with opportunities to connect with others in a supportive, safe environment.

People across the Web are connecting with SAMHSA’s National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK), thanks to Lifeline’s presence on social media sites. It is a beacon of hope for many people contemplating suicide and their families on whichever website it appears.

On the academic side, my own alma mater – Syracuse University – is using a grant from the SAMSHA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to create “gatekeeper training” for its residence life staff and health services staff on how to prevent suicide and perform successful crisis intervention. Syracuse’s “Campus Connect” program has served as a model for other colleges and universities. In addition, the school’s free “Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction” series has been hailed by medical journals for providing emotional coping skills to deal more effectively with stress, according to the school. A social marketing campaign, at SU, has focused on changing the stigma of mental health issues and increasing the awareness of its counseling center.

Syracuse joins other colleges and universities such as Penn State and Michigan in forming these online suicide prevention initiatives. Student counseling centers are calling for more suicide prevention programs to deal with a growing number of troubled students from around the country and abroad. The more tools they have on hand, the more suicides they may be able to prevent.

While recent studies by psychologists have warned that Social Media, itself, can contribute to social disorders and mental illness, it is refreshing to also hear about the many ways Social Media is impacting the field of psychology in a positive way and saving lives through its role in suicide prevention.

Marc LeVine is Vice President of Community Outreach at The Center, a therapeutic program affiliated with Advanced Behavioral Care Services, serves the needs of Monmouth, Ocean and Middlesex County residents suffering from mental illness and/or substance abuse. Licensed by the New Jersey Divisions of Mental Health & Addiction Services, and with two locations in Monmouth and Ocean counties, The Center is dedicating resources to helping their clients move from illness and disability to hopefulness and health. Through an emphasis on wellness and recovery, The Center challenges its clients to embrace a future of possibility – that of being contributing and productive members of society. To learn more, call 732-774-1500 or visit http://advancedbehavioral.com/.

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