Suicide: supporting someone online

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This is a suicide prevention factsheet to help you support someone who is distressed or showing suicidal behaviours online, eg, on social media sites or online forums.

If you want help for yourself please visit: Suicide: coping with suicidal thoughts in our A to Z.

In a crisis or emergency

If you believe the person you are speaking to is in immediate danger, do the following:

If you know the person in real life and they live close by, read our page Suicide: worried about someone?

If you do not know the person in real life or they are not close by:

  1. Reach out to the person, and ask them if they are already getting help.
  2. Try to find out where they are located (they could be overseas).
  3. Give them local helpline numbers (international list) and suggest they call and talk to someone who can help.
  4. If they’ve written or posted something about suicide and the site you are on has a reporting policy, follow it (see below for social media reporting forms).
  5. If they don’t respond to you, or say that they are going to kill themselves, ask them where they are right now.
  6. Tell them that you have to contact the police to get them help. If the person you are chatting with is in New Zealand, call 111 and ask for the police. If they are overseas, call your local police station. They will make enquiries through Interpol. Provide the police with full details about yourself and as many details as you can about the person you are concerned about.
  7. Tell the person you have called the police. If you can, keep talking to the person until the police arrive.
  8. If you know any close friends or family members of the person, contact them if you feel comfortable doing so. Let them know what is happening and ask if they can help.

Adapted from What to do if a Person Threatens Suicide on Facebook

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Reporting forms

Some social media sites have forms to report suicidal content. Use these in addition to following the steps above.

Depending on the site’s policy, they may reach out to the person to offer help, remove content that may be upsetting to others, or contact emergency services in the person’s area to get help for them.

Facebook

YouTube (flag content)

Twitter

Instagram

Note: If the site is not listed here, it may not have a current reporting process. We try to keep this section up to date, but social media sites do change their policies and procedures from time to time. If you find a broken link or a change of content, please let us know.

Look for signs

Most people thinking about taking their own life will try to let someone know, but they often won't say so directly.

If someone shows one or more of these signs, it doesn't necessarily mean they are suicidal, but they may need support. In their writing or posts online, you might notice that they:

  •  say they want to die or kill themselves
  •  write or post a lot about suicide, death or self-harm
  •  stop responding to messages, or seem to be withdrawing from their online friends
  •  don't seem to be coping with any problems they may be having
  •  have changes in mood – becoming depressed, angry or enraged
  •  feel worthless, guilty, whakamā or ashamed
  •  seem to have lost interest in life, or things they used to enjoy
  •  suddenly seem calm or happy after they have been depressed or suicidal.

Some people who are suicidal might not show these signs, and some warning signs may not be obvious. People who feel suicidal might try to hide what they are going through or pretend they are okay.

For more warning signs to look out for, especially if you know the person offline, read our Suicide: worried about someone? page.

If they are on a public page, encourage them to chat privately

If you’ve noticed something that worries you in a public discussion, ask them if they want to talk through private messages, chat, or email. In a private conversation they can share more with you about what they’re going through, without having to share it with their friends, family or the public.

Ask them if they are thinking about suicide

If you're worried that the person you are chatting with online might be thinking about suicide, don't be afraid to ask them directly - this will not put the thought in their head. Ask if they have a specific plan, as they need help right away. If they do, read the In a crisis or emergency section above.

Ask if they want to talk to you or someone else

They may not be ready to open up, but knowing you are willing to listen is a big help. If they don’t want to talk to you, ask them about the support networks they currently have (friends, family, kaumātua, religious, community or cultural leaders, or professionals) and encourage them to seek out someone they trust from those networks.

If they don’t know who they can talk to, suggest a Helpline they could call, or suggest they go and visit their doctor to find professional support.

Remember you don’t have all the answers

If they do want to chat, do your best to be there for them and listen, but realise that you don’t need to have all the answers. Be gentle, compassionate, and non-judgemental. Take them seriously, and let them know you care.

Get them to draw on their own experiences and resources

Have they felt this way before? What did they do to cope or get through it? They might already know what could help them. Stay calm, positive, and hopeful that things can get better.

Do not agree to keep secrets

If they are in danger of harming themselves, you may need to contact someone who is close to them, medical professionals, or the Police. It’s okay to tell someone else so you can keep them safe. Don’t agree to keep their plans or thoughts secret.

Encourage them to seek out “real life” help

Remember that you can’t handle this situation by yourself. Encourage them to seek support from people they trust including family, whānau or friends.

Looking after yourself

Talking to someone online who is in distress can be difficult. It is especially hard if you are not sure where they are located, or are unable to follow up to check if they are okay.

It takes energy and effort to be there for others. Looking after yourself is very important. Don’t try to handle the situation by yourself, and take a break or step back if you need to. Try not to feel responsible for the person’s feelings or actions. It’s not helpful to blame yourself if someone hurts themselves or attempts suicide.

Recovery takes time. The person you’re chatting with may show improvements in mood quite quickly, but they may feel the way they do for weeks, months or even years. Recognise that you can’t do everything. Feeling powerless and unsure about how to help is normal.

If you decide to walk alongside your online friend through their recovery, find someone you can talk to about this – a friend or family member you trust, or a counsellor. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising and taking breaks from being online. Be kind to yourself, and take time out when you need to.

 

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