Yet Another Suicide on Live-Stream: What Can We Do to Prevent It?
(This story was first published in April 2017. It is being republished ahead of the World Suicide Prevention Day on 10 September.)
In April 2017, a 28-year-old Gurugram man live-streamed his death on Facebook with over 2300 people watching. Not one of them raised an alarm. The video was live for two hours, according to various reports.
Before that, a 24-year-old man from Agra ended his life by hanging himself and live-streamed the entire incident on Facebook in July of the same year. Even though over 2,750 people watched the live video of the young man, nobody raised any alarm or alerted his family, say media reports.
In 2017, at least three similar incidents came to light.
A 23-year-old student, who jumped to his death from the 19th floor window of Taj Lands End in Mumbai, even live-streamed a step-by-step guide on how to commit suicide successfully.
Suicide is emerging as a relatively new phenomenon on social media. Social media provides people with a platform to connect with millions of people. Yet, you could be screaming for help, and there’s no accountability as to who out of those millions is listening.
On World Suicide Prevention Day, here’s a question we need to ask - why would someone want to live-stream an act of self-harm?
Psychiatry experts say the reasons behind this could come from a whole gamut of complicated factors.
Sometimes, the act may be carried out with an intention of ‘punishing’ someone else, who the suicidal person attributes their distress to, in order to manipulate others to give in to their demands if any, or as an attempt to draw attention to a message they may be trying to convey.Dr Shobhana Mittal, Attending Consultant Psychiatrist, Cosmos Institute of Mental Health & Behavioural Sciences
In January 2017, 14-year-old Nakia Venant from Miami, hung herself on a live-stream. The live went on for two hours. Her foster parents were asleep in the next room.
So the next time you chance upon content on social media about suicide or self-injury, what do you do?
1. Contact Local Law Enforcement
If the person is in immediate danger of hurting themselves, contact local law enforcement or the police immediately. It helps if you’re able to identify the person’s location. Listen carefully or pay close attention to see if there are any leads about it.
If it’s someone you know, then other than the police, inform their parents or neighbours immediately.
2. Call a Suicide Helpline
There are NGOs running helplines across the country that offer counseling to people who are in danger of committing suicides or are suffering from depression.
3. Report It to Facebook
In light of the disturbing trend of people posting suicidal content on Facebook, or taking their life during a live-stream, the social media giant has put in place response teams.
If you notice any disturbing content online, go to Facebook’s Help Centre and report the person’s profile.
In the United States, the social network has developed artificial intelligence tools to detect warning signs in a users’ post.
The existing suicide prevention tools have been integrated into Facebook Live, reported The Washington Post. People who want to flag off a disturbing live-stream, can personally reach out to the person or report the content to Facebook.
4. Reach out, but Don't Try to Be the Expert
If you’re reaching out to the person through comments in the live-stream, or through their inbox, offer support, but don’t attempt to be an expert.
“A layman can help by just being a sensitive human being,” says Dr N Rangarajan, a Chennai-based consultant psychiatrist. Dr Rangarajan adds that often people have a tendency to say, "I know you don't want to kill yourself... I know you're upset about something.”
Dr Seema Hingorany, a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist and trauma expert, says, “Even as professional experts, we often just listen to the person for 45 minutes, and allow them to vent. We don’t offer advise. They only want to be heard.”
5. Don't Question If They'll Actually Do It
When a person says they want to end their life, people often take it to be an empty threat – not something they will actually follow through with. When a person is down, the worst thing is to not take them seriously.
Last year, a teenager from St Paul, Minnesotta attempted to commit suicide on a live-stream, by consuming what she claimed was poison. As she read some of the comments aloud, people seemed to be prodding her and asking what she was really drinking, reported local newspaper Pioneer Press.
Don’t tell them they’re trying to seek attention. Telling them “if you had to kill yourself, you would have done it by now,” will only egg them on, says Dr Rangarajan.
6. Don't Judge or Tell Them to 'Snap out of It'
If you’re attempting to get through to the person directly to prevent them from harming themselves, don’t judge or act superior. Show them compassion and the confidence that help is available.
Social media is a peculiar environment where one is virtually connected to a lot of people, but is isolated physically.
While a deeply personal moment is being played out for millions to view, in effect, it’s the same as a person attempting to end their life in the closed confines of their room.
Take time out to notice things. While people scroll through social media absentmindedly, it’s important to not miss the signs when they are apparent. If you stumble upon a disturbing post or something out of the ordinary, reach out to the person. Even if it’s not someone you know very well, drop them a message – it could save a life.
Also Read: How to Love Someone With Depression
In December last year, Snapchat users from around the world came to the rescue of a 20-year-old girl from Delhi, who wanted to end her life because of an unwanted pregnancy.
Depression is treatable, suicides are preventable. It only takes some compassion to save a life. Perhaps we could’ve extended Arjun, and million others like him, the same courtesy.
(This copy has been updated.)
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