Dear Papa Bear,
As always, the words "thank you" cannot express how grateful myself and many others are to you for reading our letters and giving us some wise advice. :)
I have a shorter but important question today. This came up because relatively recently an online friend of mine has been having a rough time lately. One night, he expressed suicidal thoughts and desires (as I am sure many, if not all of us have felt at one point or another). Unfortunately, he logged off right afterwards, not giving me a chance to talk to him at all. So, naturally I feared the worst. Anyway, he came back online the next day like nothing happened.
It just made me think about a lot of things. In person, you can actually /do things/. You can set a suicide watch, call the police, give hugs, all sorts of things. Perhaps this next part sounds a bit selfish of me, but it wouldn't bother me if I didn't care. The internet allows you to, with relative anonymity, dump all your problems and some vague feeling of responsibility onto a stranger and then vanish. If this friend hadn't come back, in a year I would still be wondering if he was still alive, or if I had made a mistake somewhere. It is just a situation where I feel like I do have some sort of responsibility, but very little actual influence over /anything/.
I guess there wasn't really a question in there, but what can we do if these sorts of things happen? Can we call the police and say "Hello. I am afraid my friend W******0 means to harm himself"?
Braelyn (age 26)
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This is an important question, and thank you for posing it. The issue here, essentially, is how do you handle a call for help when all you know of the other person is his/her contact name on a social media site or on a chat page. What are your responsibilities in this situation, morally and legally?
Legally, you are under no obligation to report them to police, social services, help lines, or whatever. Morally, one should assume that this person is in trouble, even though it is very true (and I have LOTS of personal experience in this area) that there are a lot of drama queens and trolls out there who really aren’t seriously considering suicide and are just looking for attention or, worse, trying to deliberately upset you.
Let’s assume, though, as we should, that this is a very real cry for help. The police, obviously, do not have time to track down people on social media, find their contact information, and try to rush out an officer or social worker to a place that is, most likely, not even in the same jurisdiction as you are. You could call one of the many suicide help lines out there, but you would run into the same problem as you would with police.
Just for the record and on general principles, here’s a good article to read when you are dealing with a potentially suicidal person: http://psychcentral.com/lib/what-to-do-when-you-think-someone-is-suicidal/0007461.
Back to social media. I have a lot of problems with Facebook, but I do approve of them for having this on their website: https://www.facebook.com/help/contact/?id=305410456169423. You can fill in that form, providing the username, and hopefully they can look into it for you.
If it is a Twitter account, go to https://support.twitter.com/articles/20170313-dealing-with-self-harm-and-suicide.
Wordpress? Read this page: http://en.support.wordpress.com/report-blogs/.
Tumblr: Contact the troubled person and send them this link: http://youmatterlifeline.tumblr.com/
FurAffinity: http://www.furaffinity.net/controls/troubletickets/. And, same with other furry sites: try to contact admins.
And, in general, you can reply to their IMs and send them this link: http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/.
After you have taken the trouble to get them some assistance, if they don’t contact you again, then let it go. There is nothing more you can do. If they do contact you and, as in your experience, act as if nothing happened and everything is hunky dory, I would then gently inquire if they are all right. Chances are they will say something like “I was just having a bad day.” If that’s the case, then know you have a drama queen on your hands and keep that in mind for future correspondence. If they say something snarky like, “LOL, got you all worried, didn’t I?” Then you have a troll on your hands and I would block such a person.
Hope that answers your question, Braelyn!
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