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How to talk about suicide online safely

Suicide has been a problem in northern communities for a while now, but there hasn’t been much talk about it until recently when a young man from Buffalo Narrows decided to walk from La Ronge to Regina to raise awareness about suicide in the north an
suicide ribbon

Suicide has been a problem in northern communities for a while now, but there hasn’t been much talk about it until recently when a young man from Buffalo Narrows decided to walk from La Ronge to Regina to raise awareness about suicide in the north and to the fact that the Saskatchewan government unanimously said ‘no’ to a suicide prevention bill aimed for the north.

Although it’s a good thing that the conversation around suicide in the north is starting up, suicide is still a sensitive topic that is widely misunderstood. With the popularity of social media and the tendency for people to say whatever they’re thinking on social media, we must remember to take some caution when talking about suicide online.

Recently, Cathy Wheaton-Bird, who works in suicide prevention in La Ronge, held a live webinar on how to talk about suicide safely.

“The way that we talk about suicide online really matters,” said Wheaton-Bird. “Because online, on social media, there really is no such thing as private and there really is no such thing as deleting something. You can always find that people can take screenshots, people can share stuff, all kinds of things. So, it’s really important that we realize that once you put a posting about something as serious and life changing as suicide, that a lot of people are able to read it and you don’t have a lot of control over who eventually reads that posting.”

Even if you have a private account or an account that’s set to only your friends able to view a post, any one of those people can take a screenshot and share it to friends or share it on their own account and if their account is public, anyone else can share it. It’s very easy for some to go viral. 

And because it is designed to be social, consider what you’re thinking of posting as some things can really hurt others.

“The other thing is really think about, ‘Why am I posting this? What is the reason why I’m actually posting this?’ said Wheaton-Bird. “And take a bit of time and think it over before you actually put that post up.”

You never know who may have had suicidal thoughts, ideations, or attempts as mental health still has quite a stigma and suicide more so. For example, saying that suicide is “the easy way out” could make some who has had suicidal thoughts feel ashamed about their past or present feelings. Because of the stigma  most people who are depressed don’t talk about it and they certainly don’t talk about suicidal thoughts for fear of being admitted to a psych ward or because of a possibility of social isolation.  The best way to know what to say and what not to say is through education.

“Prepare yourself. Prepare yourself by finding out about the resources that are available in your community as well as online, on the phone 24/7,” said Wheaton-Bird. “So, having crisis resource information handy is really, really important if you’re deciding that you want to discuss this topic, you can be prepared. You can be one of those people that actually tells people about resources that are out there.”

A quick google search for suicide resources in Canada brings up several websites with phone numbers for counsellors, warning signs of suicidal behaviour, and reading material on how to deal with a crisis and how to discuss this serious topic.

“When you’re sharing thoughts, feelings, and experiences about suicide you need to put some focus on the positive aspects of discussing this topic, in other words, hope,” said Wheaton-Bird. “And that people do recover and that there is such a thing as resilience. So, to not forget about those really important aspects of this topic. Also, think about the privacy of whoever it is that you’re talking about, if you’re talking about yourself or you’re talking about somebody else or you’re talking about someone else that has family members out there. Also, if you’re talking about your own experience don’t forget to mention how you got help because that’s really, really important and that can actually help somebody else if you tell someone how you got help.”

The short of it is to be mindful when talking about suicide, even if you’re talking about your own experience. It’s a very serious subject and you never know what may trigger someone in a very bad way. Speaking of triggers, it’s a good idea to think of what’s called a trigger warning.

 “Another really common practice if you’re going to e talking about suicide safely online is to put a warning on your post or your information and to say, “this is a potentially triggering topic that I’m going to talk about and it’s very sensitive and I’m just letting you know ahead of time that this is something that may affect you,”’ said Wheaton-Bird. “It’s a very respectful and kind thing to do for people as well.”

Trigger warnings are becoming more prevalent, especially with younger generations, as more people realize how even one word can trigger a flashback to past trauma, a panic attack, or any other negative emotion. Usually just the letters TW or CW (content warning) are used followed by the serious topic. For example, TW: Suicide or TW: sexual assault. If a person isn’t ready to read, hear, or watch anything with the aforementioned topics, they can scroll past and not have to read or watch anything that brings up past trauma.

Now that you know what a trigger warning is, take a moment to think about why you’re posting about a topic as sensitive as suicide.

“Sometimes what people will do is they will talk about someone who has had suicidal thoughts or who has actually passed away from suicide,” said Wheaton-Bird. 

“First thing you have to think about, are you helping anybody in your comment? Who are you helping? Think about other people’s grief and other people’s loss before you post that post online. Also, be very careful about using neutral and respectful language that inspires hope and inspires people to seek help. That’s very, very important. When we’re talking about talking about suicide safely online, we’re always thinking about the potential for anybody that reads that message to actually be in that state of mind already, so that’s why safety is so important. So, inspiring hope and inspiring ideas of where help can be found are really, really important.”

Another important thing, if talking about someone else’s experience, is getting their approval to speak publicly about it. Social media is a public platform and many people would be greatly offended to see that their friend had shared confidential information to people they may not even know. 

It takes a lot for a person to open up about their mental state and especially about suicidal thoughts or attempts.

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