"Best course of action to help people online?"

Recently I was asked what I thought was the best course of action to help someone online who appears at risk of self harm and / or suicide.

I'm going to say straight off the bat that this is a difficult one for me. Approximately two years ago a friend texted me with a blatant cry for help. I'd left my phone upstairs, and by the time I saw the text, my friend was on her way to hospital following an overdose. She spent a week on a drip. The guilt of missing that text has haunted me ever since.

Since then I've watched a Facebook group work together to save the lives of multiple people who have expressed suicidal intent. Every time they have been successful. It's incredible to watch.

With that, I'm going to list what I've seen to be effective.

  1. Try to make contact with the person. If this is successful, try to chat with them as long as possible. Distracting someone from a plan to harm themselves can be highly effective. Conversation can alter someone's mind-set to the point that they can see a way forward.
  2. If step 1 is not effective, then you should try to find family or local friends. Facebook is wonderful for this. If you can't view their friends list, then viewing comments on photos / statuses is a good bet. Viewing photos they're tagged in with friends can be helpful. If this is successful, then gently alert the person that their friend / family member is in distress.
  3. If step two is not successful, or if you are unable to get a response from family / friends (cries for help are often made during "unsociable" hours), then the next step is to try to ascertain the approximate location of the person in distress. This will allow you to make contact with local authorities, i.e. police. When you make contact with police, be sure to hand over all known information such as location, contact info, legal name, when the person was last heard from, etc. This will aid the police in finding the person and helping them. Additionally, if the person was recently hospitalised and you have the name of the hospital, this may be of assistance to the police.

I hope you're never in a position to need this guide, however if you are, I hope it helps.

Please remember to take care of yourself if such an event arises. It can be distressing for all parties, and if you need to talk then please make sure you do. It may be helpful to make contact with a local helpline or speak to your therapist if you are undergoing treatment for mental health difficulties yourself.