Social media can often create a sense of community and closeness for Soldiers. Beyond sharing viral videos and exchanging memes, it allows individuals to connect with one another outside of face-to-face contact. These platforms may also serve as an outlet for Soldiers to express vulnerabilities.
“We know that social media platforms are commonly used for the expression of both negative expression…and positive…It could be that people who post to their group are comfortable with social media and therefore are open to communicating,” said Carrie Shult, Army Suicide Prevention Program Manager.
It’s important to recognize the warning signs when a fellow Soldier is struggling. You can help prevent suicide by actively intervening when a battle buddy shares suicidal ideation (thinking about, considering, or planning suicide) on social media. When someone shares feelings of hopelessness, emotional pain, and self-harm on social media, take the posts seriously by acting quickly and responding compassionately. Shult recommends referencing the Defense Suicide Prevention Office’s video resource Simple Things Save Lives, which provides steps for intervention in social media scenarios.
Responding to concerning messages on social media should not be different than engaging with someone in person. In the video, Sgt. 1st Class Dan Caddy, of the Battle in Distress social media page, states, “A lot of these posts people put up can be vague. You don’t know whether it’s a big issue or a small issue (or) them just venting off steam. But you’re never going to know unless you take two minutes to send them a message. And then you’re able to triage based on their response…you have no way to tell unless you start that conversation.”
If you see messages that seem out of character, don’t ignore them. You can send your friend a text message, contact them via direct message, call them on the phone, or visit them in person if you feel comfortable doing so.
Reaching out may feel awkward but connecting could save a life. If you’re unsure of what to say, consider:
· Getting your friend’s backstory and listening without judgement.
· Relating to what they’re saying and validating their feelings.
· Giving hope.
· Remembering ACE - Ask, Care, and Escort so that they can get the help they need.
Several social media platforms have built-in tools and resources for users to report messages that allude to distress and self-harm. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline staff intercept these messages and provide support. The Lifeline has also partnered with platforms to develop resources, tools, and scripts which may aid in navigating tough online conversations. You can also call the Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Military Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, Press 1, for support if you encounter a message on social media that alludes to suicide or suicidal ideation. If you believe someone you know is in immediate danger and references access to lethal means, please take them to the nearest emergency room or call 911 and provide first responders with the location of your friend.