By Susan Kurlander, M.Ed.
Married with children or seeking a long- term relationship, established in a career or considering a career change, deciding on a graduate program or satisfied with an undergraduate degree, enjoying where you live or thinking about a geographic change—just a few of the many places in life young people in their late 20’s and early 30’s may find themselves. No matter where you are, social media, most likely, plays an important role in how you connect with your immediate world as well as the world at large.
When goals are being reached and successes forthcoming, using social media is a “no brainer.” Why wouldn’t we want to let people know about the positives in our lives, but what do we do when we’re not “keeping up?” When the hardships in our lives, whether personal or professional, seem insurmountable, how do we handle those feelings?
Prior to the invention of social media, we might have talked with a friend or family member—someone trustworthy who was there to listen and offer a safe place that would remain private. But now, technology offers another option for sharing our innermost thoughts and feelings.
Social media is often cited as a negative, as a major impetus for expressing suicidal thoughts and actions. However, according to an article on SocialWorkToday.com, we need to look at another, more positive side of social media. “Suicide is preventable, social media is one channel for monitoring that,” explains Carl Hanson, Ph.D., MCHES, Director of the Master’s in Public Health program and an associate professor in the department of Health Sciences at Brigham Young University. Dr. Hanson contends that people rarely say “I am going to kill myself.” Instead, they may post troubling comments such as:
“I’ve never felt so depressed.”
“I don’t think I can handle one more thing in my life.”
“I feel like no one in the world understands me.”
“People always have to fix my mistakes.”
“Everyone would be better off if I weren’t here.”
What do we do if troubling comments from friends show up in our newsfeed? What or how are we supposed to think? To act? To do? Of course, we always have the option of discounting the post and ignoring what appears to be a plea for sympathy or connection. But given the seriousness of suicide, can we choose to be that one channel for monitoring and perhaps even saving a life?
The first thing to do is assess the situation. Ask yourself:
How well do I know this person?
Has this person faced any life changes recently?
Has this person posted similar comments in the past?
Is this a pattern of behavior?
Am I able to evaluate this person’s mental health situation?
Does this person have a support system in place?
Should you decide that you do want to respond to someone’s post, here are some suggestions:
* Talk to someone else about that you’ve read to see if their perception is is similar to yours.
* Acknowledge or paraphrase what you’ve read to the writer to make sure you’re not misunderstanding the meaning of the post.
* Offer possible resources for professional help. The JCS website offers resources for those experiencing mental and emotional health issues.
It’s hard to get inside someone’s head when you’re sitting on the other side of the screen. As difficult as it may be to assess someone’s situation as communicated on social media, it is better to be safe than sorry. Jewish tradition tells us that by saving one life, it’s as if we were saving the whole world. Responding to a post that indicates feelings of hopelessness, purposelessness or suicide may be saving that one life. It’s using social media in the most positive way.
Susan is a health educator for JCS Prevention Education.
JCS provides a broad range of services that meet the diverse, multi-dimensional needs of individuals and families throughout Central Maryland. We offer guidance and support when you are seeking solutions for emotional well-being, aging and caregiving, parenting, job seeking, employers and businesses, achieving financial stability, living with special needs, and preventing risky behaviors. To learn more, please visit our home page or call 410-466-9200.