Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Five Things You Can Do with Social Media to Prevent Suicide and Promote Mental Health

Social media allows us to have timely and engaging communication, providing us – the citizen journalists -- an opportunity to shape the conversation around mental health and suicide. Usually when the terms “social media” and “suicide” are connected, the news is bad. Many examples of unsafe behavior exist, such as: a “how to” website, a suicide threat posted on Facebook, videotaped suicidal behavior uploaded to YouTube, a social network resulting in a suicide pact, a suicide note that goes viral and romanticizes a death, and so on.

While there are many safeguard procedures being developed that respond to cries for help and prevent these practices from reaching masses, it is nearly impossible to be proactive in addressing this problem. The suicide prevention and mental health promotion communities will always be in reactive mode. That said, there are many ways we can use social media for good, and here are my top five favorites:

1.       Post and pose: The beauty of social media is that is allows for interaction, and we can always find ways to get people talking by posing relevant questions. The goal is to tell people what you want them to remember and engage them in dialogue that moves to conversation forward. For example:
  • Post a link to a helpful or innovative resource and ask if others have experience with it
  • Post an article about a new discovery in the scientific literature and ask how people think this breakthrough will change things
  • Post a news story about hope and recovery and ask if others have similar, relevant stories to tell
  • Post a survey and ask people what they think the results mean
2.       Monitor and respond:  In the “After a Suicide Toolkit” [2011, Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) and American Foundation for Suicide Prevention(AFSP)], the authors suggest that we also help shape the conversation when others (traditional media and social media) share inaccurate or unsafe information. See Facebook safety mechanisms here. For example, the media often makes a big deal about suicide being a problem around the December holidays, when in reality, December is usually the month with the lowest rates of all. When people post inaccurate information like this, we can help correct the misperceptions with comments and links to credible data. When individuals post messages on Facebook or Twitter, we can respond by connecting them to resources like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
3.       Create a buzz with a button or a badge: According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’sThe Health Communications Social Media Toolkit,” buttons (designed for organizational use) and badges (designed for individual use)
can be a very effective way to spread a call to action.
Both tactics involve a small, colorful graphic with a simple, catchy message that you can embed in your email signature, on your webpage or in your Facebook post. The graphic is then linked to a place where people can start taking that action. For example:
  • To promote the message “Are You at Risk for Depression? Get screened today” on National Depression Screening Day, create a graphic and link it to a depression screening tool
  • To promote the  message “Mental Health Matters – Let Your Voice be Heard”, create a graphic that links to an on-line petition for mental health legislation
  •   Today is World Suicide Prevention Day – Take 5 to Save a Life” is a great example of how to use a button. This graphic made quite a splash as suicide prevention advocates from all over the world posted it on Facebook on World Suicide Prevention Day.

4.       Share stories of success: Everyone loves a good story, and the world needs more models of what is working. By following safe media guidelines and strategies for compelling storytelling, we can really start to capture people’s attention.
·         YouTube: Videotape footage of communities pulling together like AFSP has done with their “Out of Darkness Walk.” These pieces demonstrate solidarity, perseverance, and commitment. What is your community doing that brings large numbers of people together for our cause? Capture this, share the spirit, then upload to YouTube.
·         Another excellent example of a community sharing hope is this “100 reasons to stay” video.

Video on reasons to live goes viral

·         Podcast:  Interview a therapist on what people should expect when they come to therapy. Interview a faith leader with an enlightened view on how spirituality and mental health are intertwined. Interview a community leader (e.g., elected official, first responder, local celebrity, business leader, etc.) who is a champion of the cause.
·         Blog: Write about your observations of a family that transcended their grief to make a difference. Or about how your favorite coping strategies have helped you. Or about a positive outcome that took place when you reached out to a friend or family member that was struggling.

5.       Promote art that is healing and hopeful:
·         Playlist: Create a playlist on iTunes that shares uplifting songs designed to pull people through dark times
·         Flickr: Pull together an on-line art show of images with narratives that depict recovery
·         E-Book: Publish a downloadable book of poems and short stories about positive transformation
How have you used social media to prevent suicide or promote mental health?


  1. Fabulous list, Sally! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thank you so much...that was so mind-opening

  3. I really like your writing style, great information, thankyou for posting.
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  4. That is very interesting I love reading and I am always searching for informative information like this.thanks for your great and helpful presentation I like your good service.I always appreciate your post.
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