Thursday, July 11, 2013

Can you tell someone is contemplating suicide from social media posts and text messages?

Do you think there are signs someone may be contemplating suicide on his or her Facebook page, other social networks and text messages?

The Veterans Education and Research Association of Northern England are trying to find out with the Durkheim Project. Anonymous U.S. veterans who opt in to share their social media and mobile phone data will be studied, reports allFacebook.com. This data will be studied to see if it is correlated with tendencies for harmful behaviors. The data will be safeguarded  by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

I'm personally not sure how telling this will be. Even though the veterans will remain anonymous, they still know they are being studied. And I think, for most people, they would watch what they say in a text message if they knew it was being forwarded to the government. Even if it was subconsciously, there are certain things people wouldn't say. For a person who may send sexually explicit text messages on a regular basis, for instance, or send naked pictures, this probably would no longer happen during this study.

So, while I do think Facebook statuses and text messages could serve as a direct link to suicidal tendencies, I personally think this study will be flawed. The text messages that would most likely predict self harming behavior will probably be severely edited during this study. At least I know if it were me taking part in this study, that's what I would do — even if I didn't do it on purpose.

But, while I don't have any scientific evidence to back me up, I do think that, many times, the two are correlated. For example, the day Paris Jackson, the daughter of the late-King of Pop Michael Jackson, attempted suicide, she posted on her Twitter account, "Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away. Now it looks as though they're here to stay."

I think if someone is posting ambiguous statuses or Tweets referencing losing hope or giving up, this could be a sign. And, when posting this online, they are reaching out for help. Be there for them. Send them a message, a text message or call them ASAP and ask what is wrong.

When someone is contemplating suicide, he or she is not in the right mind. And, when locked in their bedroom with only a cell phone, chances are, they will talk to somebody privately -- or publicly. I know that, looking back on times in my life when I was depressed, this was when I would text friends or post sad song lyrics on Facebook. A depressed person combined with a phone can be a dangerous combination. I'm pretty sure this is when I've said some of the most embarrassing and/or uncharacteristic things. But, in that mindset, I'm was just hoping that someone would respond and help me feel better.

This could be a last ditch effort, when feeling completely alone, to see if people do care about them. So when you get a text from a friend or see a Facebook status that raises a red flag, don't ignore it. This could make the difference between life and death.

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