Can Social Media Help Prevent Suicide?

What is the intersection between social media and suicide prevention?

Posted Apr 06, 2009

What is the intersection between social media and suicide prevention? How do we tap into the ways that social media utilize social support to build that protective factor for suicide prevention?

In this blog, I'll be writing about suicide as an outcome, as well as about preventing suicide. Protective factors, those elements of individual lives, families, communities, and our society that promote health and well-being and contribute to preventing negative health outcomes, are most interesting.

Social media, such as this very platform (blogs), social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, and microblogs like Twitter, are building communities in innovative and unconventional ways. They facilitate instantaneous interaction and simultaneously, anonymity and full disclosure - completely new dynamics for what have become virtual communities.

What do we know about how to build communities that support individuals? Critical elements seem to be connection and relationships. When people feel connected to others and supported by them to be who they are - as they do in virtual communities - they have a safety net that may help protect them at times of despair.

There seem to be lessons to learn from the ways social media are building communities, but also caveats. The anonymity and the resultant diffusion of responsibility can leave people who are asking for help via these channels without a response.

The most compelling stories I've heard are of Abraham Biggs and Paul Zolezzi, two young men who utilized social media during their suicide attempts and completions. Biggs, a college student, broadcast his suicide attempt over the Internet, where countless numbers of people watched him die by poisoning. Zolezzi, an aspiring model and actor, updated his Facebook status message with an apparent suicide note, and then died by suffocation later that day.

It's fascinating to me that these two individuals chose these ways to reach out, but even more riveting that almost no one responded to their cries for help.

Just the same, today I read how actress Demi Moore helped prevent a suicide using her Twitter account. Moore quickly replied to a posting by one of her Twitter followers which talked about suicide, and other Twitter followers were able to determine where the woman lived and send police to her home.

Have you heard of other instances where social media helped prevent suicide? Finally, what do you want to hear through this social media platform about suicide prevention?

Copyright 2009 Elana Premack Sandler, All Rights Reserved